Serving Franklin County, WA

Governor 'strongly recommends' students study from home

Officials refrain from issuing 'legally binding' orders

CHENEY — Gov. Jay Inslee “strongly recommends” public and private students in 34 of the state’s 39 counties stay home this fall.

His recommendation came during a press conference this afternoon, Aug. 5, in which he was joined by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal and state Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy.

The governor said he was not issuing legally binding orders, but would expect school districts to heed his advice and that of state health offices as it relates to returning to campus while the Wuhan coronavirus remains.

Reykdal added that the state Constitution requires local school boards to make such decisions, so the guidelines were offered to give local control without violating the constitution.

Inslee said only five counties have low enough infection rates to allow for reopening of campuses. Those counties are Asotin, Garfield, Jefferson, San Juan and Wahkiakum.

Those counties are in a “low-risk” category for rate of infection, he said. Low-risk means less than 25 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents in a two-week period.

The rest of the state’s counties are considered “moderate” or “high” risk. Moderate risk is from 25-75 cases; and high risk is more than 75.

“The rate of transmission is not low enough as we need it to be,” he said, noting allowing students and employees back on campuses could lead to rapid spread of the virus.

In recommending students all stay home to study, Gov. Inslee also recommended school districts cancel all sports and performing arts events.

The governor left the door open to allowing some campuses to open for small groups of special needs students. But any campus that opens will have to require students and staff to wear masks, submit to daily health screenings, keep more than six feet apart and disinfect daily.

“We believe these recommendations are fully supported,” the governor said, noting school districts will also have to “monitor and respond” to suspected coronavirus cases.

Inslee said he hopes private schools will follow his guidance.

“If there are cases in their schools, they’re going to have to make some decisions,” he said.

To help families and students on free or reduced lunch, the state is releasing $8.5 million to pay for internet access and other technology.

The Medical Lake School District has been preparing to reopen its campuses.

During a West Plains Chamber of Commerce meeting earlier in the day, Superintendent Tim Ames said his district has purchased “14,000 gallons of hand sanitizers.” The district has also purchased five cloth masks for all students.

According to Ames, Medical Lake families are looking forward to returning to campus, noting 90% of parents are comfortable with sending youth back to school.

The Medical Lake School Board is expected to vote on final plans for the upcoming school year when it meets Aug. 12.

Schools officials in the Colfax and Washtucna districts have already decided to re-open campuses this fall.

Meanwhile, the Tri-City area, Spokane and Cheney schools, among others, have already decided to teach students remotely.

Cheney School District Superintendent Rob Roettger attended the digital meeting with Ames.

Citing a recommendation from Spokane Regional Health Officer Dr. Robert “Bob” Lutz, Roettger said keeping students off-campus make sense at this time.

“How do you go against the strong recommendation of the health officer,” he asked.

Author Bio

Roger Harnack, Publisher

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Roger Harnack is the co-owner/publisher of Free Press Publishing. Having grown up Benton City, Roger is an award-winning journalist, photographer, editor and publisher. He's one of only two editorial/commentary writers from Washington state to ever receive the international Golden Quill. Roger is dedicated to the preservation of local media, and the voice it retains for Eastern Washington.


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