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Seattle schools won’t offer online learning for middle, high school students this fall

The Seattle Education Association released a statement pushing Seattle Public Schools to offer virtual learning to all students.

SEATTLE — Seattle Public Schools (SPS) announced Thursday it would only offer online learning for a limited number of students in kindergarten through fifth grade for the 2021-22 school year, leaving students in grades sixth through 12th to look outside of the district. 

SPS said the district will be, "focusing our online, high-quality learning services on our youngest learners" under 12 who have not been vaccinated against the coronavirus. Still, online learning will be limited, and families must apply for the opportunity. 

Students with underlying health conditions, as well as students living with a family member who has underlying health conditions, and students with mental health concerns or who experience an increased sense of safety during remote learning will be given priority, according to the district. 

The Seattle Education Association (SEA), the union representing SPS teachers, came out against the decision Thursday, saying it was made "unilaterally" by the district after the union had already begun negotiations with SPS to make a virtual option available for all students. 

"SPS instead pulled out of negotiations and prematurely announced the elimination of the secondary virtual option without informing us at the bargaining table. This came months after SPS had promised families a virtual option," an SEA spokesperson wrote in a statement. "This eleventh-hour change is unacceptable."

SPS said it is committed to working with families seeking other online learning options, and identified several state-approved programs at no cost to students. The district said it would be dedicating resources to connecting families and students to online learning programs. 

SEA noted students of color, students with disabilities and immigrant students, in particular, are in need of a middle and high school virtual learning option, calling it a "critical piece of this equitable, safe education for students in elementary, middle, and high school."