News you may have missed: Inslee advances to reopen schools

According+to+Governor+Inslee%27s+announcement%2C+students+from+K-6+will+return+to+partial+in-person+learning+by+April+5th%2C+while+students+in+grades+7-12+will+return+by+April+19th.+Art+by+Hope+Rasa.+

Hope Rasa

According to Governor Inslee’s announcement, students from K-6 will return to partial in-person learning by April 5th, while students in grades 7-12 will return by April 19th. Art by Hope Rasa.

Hope Rasa, Reporter

On Friday, March 12, 2021, Gov. Jay Inslee gave an announcement in which he instructed all Washington schools to at least partially return to in-person schooling. He informed Washington residents that preschool students and disabled students should begin learning in-person by March 29, students in grades K-6 should return by April 5, and students in grades 7-12 should return by April 19.

“After one year of closure of our schools, the time has come for every child in the state of Washington to have access to on-site instruction,” Inslee said. 

Inslee’s order will have students from grades K-12 attend school under a hybrid learning model, which means their schedule will be a mix of online and in-person learning. 

This announcement diverged from Inslee’s previous stance on reopening schools. Up until this point, Inslee had been consistent in his message that he holds only the ability to close schools, not reopen them. 

Many school officials weren’t prepared for this sudden decision. 

 “It blows everything up. We weren’t happy about delays. … But we wanted to prioritize more in-person time to those less likely to succeed,” Chandra Hampson, president of the Seattle School Board, said.

According to the Washington Education Association, the sudden nature of Inslee’s order means that some districts do not feel confident in their ability to safely reopen before the deadline the governor has assigned them,

“Some districts are not yet prepared to safely welcome students back to buildings,” the WEA said in a written release. 

“Local unions are actively bargaining with districts to ensure the return to buildings is as safe as possible. Shortcutting those safety processes is not in the best interest of our students, staff, or communities,” the WEA said.

The governor said his decision regarding the return to school was a result of the mental health issues students have been experiencing as a result of remote learning.

“We’re doing this because we have experienced a mental-health crisis for many of our children,” Inslee said.

Many agree that students’ mental wellbeing should be made a priority. Mark Morris High School Sophomore Lilly Hinton said online school had taken a toll on her. 

“I think the mental health crisis trumps the pandemic in this sense. During the pandemic, my grades slipped heavily, and I know my friends struggled as well,” Hinton said. “I think with remote learning it’s hard to find motivation, and I’ve even seen my best friend lose interest in the art class she used to love.” 

Studies have shown that online learning does take an emotional toll on students, though the question of whether or not returning is the best solution to the mental health problem remains.

 Studies have also shown that reopening schools can be a safe option, and certain schools in Washington, such as Mark Morris High School in Longview, have been successful in reopening safely. 

“We started hybrid at the beginning of the month. My school is doing fine and keeping to the rules,” Hinton said.

 Despite this, some groups, such as the WEA, are concerned that schools aren’t being given the time necessary to ensure they open safely. Some students hold similar concerns regarding health and safety.

“While most teachers are getting vaccinated, students are not. They make up most of the school’s population, meaning that it can still be spread among them,” sophomore Isabel Amaya said. “We need the majority of kids to be vaccinated before we consider teaching them in person.” 

On top of concerns about a lack of vaccinations, some students worry that a shortage of mask-wearing will become an issue. Sophomore Jonathan Tom said he’s worried some students will shirk their responsibility to wear masks.

One of my main worries is about mask-wearing. Within my own friend group, masks aren’t a problem. We just wear them around each other and that’s it no fuss,” Tom said. “But I see some people on Instagram who post pictures of their friends not wearing masks around each other and that has me worried. Since they don’t wear masks normally around their friends, what’s stopping them from continuing that at school?”

As the date of mandatory reopening draws near, students, teachers, and school officials from all over the state are scrambling to accommodate a COVID-19-safe learning environment. The governor’s stance on and plan for reopening schools is still developing. While the mandate was put in place in order to ease the emotional burden felt by students as a result of online-schooling, Inslee said it may take a while for those scars to heal, even after they’ve returned to school in person.

“The lasting effect of this mental health crisis will be felt for some time,” Inslee said. “A return to school is not a total catch-all to these challenges. But this return is unequivocally part of the solution for so many younger Washingtonians.”