Pierce County schools can consider gradual return to in-person learning

VIDEO: Pierce County schools can consider gradual return to in-person learning

PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. — The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department on Friday sent out a letter to the county’s public and private schools advising them that they can now consider a gradual return to in-person learning starting with elementary school students.

According to health officials, this comes as a result of the community’s efforts to drive down COVID-19 infections by using masks, physical distancing and keeping gatherings small.

On Thursday, the 14-day case rate for the county was 73.5 cases per 100,000 people, which met the moderate level criteria that allows for the gradual return to in-person learning.

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“We have entered into the moderate phase under the department of health school Decision Tree,” said Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department Deputy Director Nancy Sutton in an interview with KIRO 7. “School districts now shift into the lead in terms of planning for their slow and gradual return to in-person learning, starting with elementary school.”

Sutton said elementary school students have struggled the hardest with distance learning and don’t seem to be as severely impacted by COVID-19 compared to older teens and adults.

Pierce County’s largest public school districts said Friday they won’t allow in-person learning for elementary school students before September 22. The districts plan to monitor county trends and work with health officials to decide when to bring back middle and high school students.

“Between now and Sept. 21, districts will be monitoring data and developing transition plans,” states a letter signed by 15 Pierce County superintendents. “Once a district decides to bring students back to school, they may need at least two weeks of operational transition time before they reopen their doors at the elementary level.”

Health officials said private schools will likely move faster in bringing the initial round of students back.

“I think some will be able to start the day after Labor Day and some may take a couple of weeks to get ready and finish their preparations,” said Sutton.