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Masks, distancing and remote options: Washington updates COVID-19 guidance for K-12 schools

The state Department of Health released updated K-12 school COVID-19 guidance for the summer and fall. Here’s what it includes.

SEATTLE — Washington K-12 schools must plan for full-time, in-person learning for all interested students for 2021 summer classes and the 2021-2022 school year, according to updated guidance from the Washington State Department of Health (DOH).

The DOH released the updated COVID-19 health and safety guidance for K-12 schools Thursday, a day after everyone 12 and older became eligible to get the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in Washington state.

“We are releasing this guidance early to give the school districts in Washington the opportunity to put plans in place for a safe and successful 2021-2022 school year,” said Washington State Secretary of Health Umair A. Shah.

According to the updated guidance, all Washington K-12 schools must have the following COVID-19 mitigation efforts in place:

  • All students, school personnel, volunteers, and visitors must wear at least a cloth face covering or an acceptable alternative when indoors, as well as outdoors where a minimum of 6 feet distancing cannot be maintained.
  • Schools must have basic ventilation, cleaning and infection control plans updated to reflect what is currently known about COVID-19.
  • In preparation for the potential of COVID-19 infections while at school, schools must have a response plan in place that includes communication with staff, families, their school district, and local health jurisdiction.
  • Schools should prepare to provide instruction for students who are excluded from school due to illness or quarantine.
  • Physical distancing of at least 3 feet or more between students in classroom settings and at least 6 feet or more in most situations outside of the classroom to the degree possible is recommended. However, physical distancing recommendations should not prevent a school from offering full-time, in-person learning to all students/families in the fall.

Click here to read the full DOH guidance.

The DOH said COVID-19 testing programs and vaccinations are currently not required, but “can help reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools and the broader community.”

Along with the mandatory mitigation efforts, schools must also follow all “Healthy Washington: Roadmap to Recovery” reopening guidance for extracurricular activities, including sporting activities, overnight camps, performing arts and special events.

While updated guidance for next year has been released, the DOH said all public and private schools in the state must continue to follow the existing guidance for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year.

Several Washington school districts have already announced they plan to return to in-person learning full-time this fall, including Seattle Public Schools, the Lake Washington School District and Tacoma Public Schools.