Governor’s office issues guidelines for social distancing in schools

Washington public school students will need to maintain a distance between three and six feet while at school, Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday.

The move is consistent with the recent CDC guidance that it is safe for students to be three feet apart, as long as they are wearing masks.

The minimum requirement of three feet is currently optional for districts that currently have students six feet apart.

By the summer and fall, schools will have to follow the three feet rule.

While desks should be three feet apart, students will need to be six feet apart for meals, activities and in common areas.

Staff will also need to be six feet from students and other staff members.

All students and staff must still wear masks.

A Seattle Public Schools spokesperson said the district’s social distancing policy will remain at six feet for both students and staff due to the tentative agreement it has with the Seattle Education Association. The district also pointed out a late-breaking change like this is nearly impossible to implement given the district’s size.

Seattle parent Mela Erickson said she is planning to send her kids back to the classroom, come April 5, which is when Seattle Public Schools plans to welcome back kids K-5th.

“I think changing it at this point is not reasonable,” Erickson said. “I would be fine with having them three-feet apart in the classroom, but changing the plan of how many kids are in the classroom, how many cohorts we’re going to have, how we do online and in-person with this new number of kids,  rearranging everything in the school building - we can’t just spring that on them,” she said.

Erickson also added that it’s been an incredibly frustrating few months this year for Seattle parents, with repeated communication from the district on shifting in-person start dates.

“If they had put this much effort into bargaining and getting a deal that worked for everybody from the beginning we could’ve been back months ago,” Erickson said.

As for the new three-foot distance guidelines, Washington Education Association President Larry Delaney issued a statement about the changes.

“The educators of WEA are united to ensure the safety and health of our students, school staff, families and communities,” Delaney said. “Any changes to social distance guidelines in schools must be made in partnership with local educators’ unions as well as the community members most impacted by the pandemic. This includes low-income and BIPOC students who, for health and safety reasons, are not able to return to in-person learning this year. All students, regardless of learning mode, deserve high-quality, equitable education and mental health support as we close out the school year.”

While some Washington districts are already back in the classroom, some will need to offer a hybrid in-person and virtual learning model by Apr. 5 for kindergarten through sixth grade.

The hybrid model needs to be offered for kindergarten through 12th grade by Apr. 19.

Gov. Inslee also said he hopes all students will be fully back in the classroom this fall.