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Reykdal says keeping kids in classrooms is top priority, but districts may close temporarily as COVID-19 spikes again

UPDATED: Sat., Jan. 8, 2022

Reykdal  (SSR)
Reykdal (SSR)

Families shouldn’t be surprised to see brief closures of school buildings and perhaps entire districts in the near future, Washington State Superintendent Chris Reykdal said Friday.

The combination of COVID-19, winter weather and staff shortages could mean that “your local school district may need to close temporarily” over the next few weeks, Reykdal said.

Echoing earlier comments from Gov. Jay Inslee about the need to keep schools open, Reykdal stressed the importance of in-person instruction.

“It is our No. 1 priority to keep the school in-person,” Reykdalsaid during a news conference Friday, “Although we’re really challenged with omicron.”

However, Reykdal said decisions to temporarily close buildings or districts will be made locally and not by the state.

Reykdal’s comments were part of a wide-ranging speech billed as the first of what will be annual updates on Washington’s K–12 schools from the superintendent.

Reykdal also offered updates on graduation data for the Class of 2021, data from the fall state assessments, information about rising COVID-19 cases and the impact on schools and other topics.

“Over the past two years, our students, educators, and schools have had to be very flexible,” Reykdal said. “We have learned so much throughout the pandemic and we need to seize this opportunity to make the change needed to support the success of each and every one of our students.”

About 42% of students are fully vaccinated in Washington, Reykdal said during the news conference. Ninety percent of teachers are vaccinated.

When outbreaks occur, the state Department of Health advises that school districts use a “cascading closures” approach, starting with small-scale cancellations of extracurriculars, then classrooms, schools and entire districts, if necessary.

Reykdal stressed the pressures straining schools should begin to subside in the next month as cases peak.

Reykdal also addressed money matters, saying Washington is closing the gap with the national average in public school funding. The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction requested a bill this year to provide flexibility over credit requirements to students in grades 11 and 12.

Funding requests to the Legislature also include more money for counselors and other personnel.

Reykdal said the graduation rate for the class of 2021 was 82.5%, or a 0.4% decline from 2020.

Data shows some opportunity gaps are closing, as the graduation rate increased for Black/African American students (up 1.4%), Asian students (up 1.1%), and students who are multilingual/English learners (up 0.5%).

However, some gaps persist, as the graduation rate decreased for students who are low-income (down 1.1%), Native Hawaiian/ Pacific Islander (down 2%), multiracial (down 2.1%), those in foster care (down 2.1%), and American Indian/Alaska Native (down 2.7%).

To make the most of limited in-person learning time for students last spring, OSPI moved spring 2021 assessments to the fall.

Because students were assessed at a different time of year and in a different school year than when they learned the content, Reykdal said caution should be used when comparing results from this fall to previous or future years.

Data from this fall shows slight decreases in English language scores from 2019, with larger score decreases in math.

Final numbers will be posted in about four weeks, Reykdal said.

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