Gov. Inslee urges in-person classes, virus school testing upped

VIDEO: Gov. Inslee expands incentives to reopen schools

On Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee offered more help for school districts to reopen their classrooms. He’s expanding the program that helps districts pay for rapid testing of students and staff.

“We have good news that we are opening our schools for in-person instruction,” Inslee said to begin today’s news conference.

To be clear, not every school is opening. But, in order to encourage more districts to reopen, the state is expanding its rapid COVID-19 testing program to 48 additional school districts, for a total of 60 districts across the state. The plan builds on the success of schools in Buckley, Gig Harbor and Enumclaw.

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“We have over 175 schools that are already doing this. They are doing this safely. They are doing this efficiently, and they are doing this with a resounding confidence that this is the best way to educate our children; while at the same time, giving parents an option to remain in a remote setting, should they desire to remain in that kind of situation,” Inslee said.

Also on Tuesday, Republican lawmakers proposed to send money to help families with the cost of distance learning.

They’re proposing to give families $300 per child, or every K-12 student who gets free or reduced-price lunches. Families will decide how to spend the money, such as for internet or childcare services.

“When things shut down and students went to remote learning, families had to incur costs like buying a printer or a desk to even work from. And this budget addresses some of those needs,” said Republican Rep. Kelly Chambers (Puyallup).

School districts that volunteer to try reopening will get money from the state for testing. An organization called Health Commons will provide a dedicated testing strategy planner. Still, teachers are cautious.

“Educators working in person should have access to the vaccine, as is the case in 28 other states in the country,” said the Washington Education Association in a statement.

Governor Inslee is not making special vaccine provisions for teachers.

“They’ve shown us that when ... kids and staff wear masks, where they socially distance, where they have decent attention to ventilation, that this can be done safely.”

Republicans are pressing Gov. Inslee to order schools to reopen, but he maintains he does not have that authority under the Washington Constitution.