skip to main content
caption: General school assistant Vicki Premo, right, checks in second-grade student Cora on Thursday, January 21, 2021, as second-grade students returned to in-person learning at Somerset Elementary School in Bellevue.
Enlarge Icon
General school assistant Vicki Premo, right, checks in second-grade student Cora on Thursday, January 21, 2021, as second-grade students returned to in-person learning at Somerset Elementary School in Bellevue.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Here’s what Seattle Schools' first reopening phase could look like

Seattle's school district and its teachers union have reached a tentative agreement to phase into in-person classes.

Unlike neighboring districts, however, transportation would not be offered to most students.

Under the tentative agreement, preschool and elementary students would have the option to attend in-person classes for four mornings, or afternoons, a week.

After months of bargaining, the district and union reached a tentative agreement Tuesday to start bringing back students. It comes in time for the K-5 reopening deadline that Governor Jay Inslee set in an emergency proclamation Monday.

The union is discussing the tentative agreement in a series of informational meetings with members this week, followed by an online vote that concludes March 26. If approved by the union, the school board would then vote on the agreement before ratification.

Under the agreement, students in preschool through fifth grade, plus students in intensive special education settings, would be invited back to school for a hybrid schedule: half-day classes four days a week, with Wednesdays all-remote.

Students with disabilities whose individualized education programs guarantee more hours would receive more time in-person.

Preschoolers and students in elementary intensive special education pathways could return to school classrooms March 29. All other elementary and special education intensive pathways students could return April 5.

To enable social distancing and smaller class sizes, schools would divide each grade or group into two cohorts: morning and afternoon. That schedule would enable schools to avoid the tricky lunch hour when students would have to remove their masks to eat, increasing the risk of coronavirus transmission. Students would be given a morning snack upon request, and free take-home meals will still be provided.

Daily schedule: Hybrid model

  • Each cohort of students would meet for 2 hours and 45 minutes in-person on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, including at least 20 minutes of outdoor recess for preschool and elementary students.
  • While the morning cohort is in the classroom, the afternoon cohort would do remote lessons from home — either live or pre-recorded — with specialists, like art, music, PE and library, along with small group and independent work. The two groups would swap midday.
  • For students in the hybrid model, Wednesday schedules would be similar or identical to the all-remote model they’re used to.

Daily schedule: Remote model

  • The district will still offer a 100% remote-learning option for families not ready to send children in-person.
  • Students learning entirely remotely could have a mix of live online lessons as well as pre-recorded lessons and independent work.
  • The daily schedule details will be up to each school to determine.

Will students keep their same teachers?

While many students will be able to keep the same teachers they’ve had all year, others could get new teachers due to the shift.

Because each school would have a different proportion of students who return in-person, along with some teachers’ need to stay home to accommodate medical conditions, teacher reassignment decisions will be left to each building based on their numbers.

If a school does not have enough students in the hybrid model to create two cohorts, it would only create one cohort which would join their all-remote classmates for online learning in the rest of the day and on Wednesdays.

Will students get transportation to school?

Although the tentative agreement does not discuss transportation options, the district said that transportation will not be offered to students aside from children in Head Start, and those who receive it as a special education service, are facing homelessness, or are in foster care.

After the district’s transportation contractor, First Student, laid off drivers last year, it has not hired back enough to run the usual routes, district officials said. A First Student spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

District spokesperson Tim Robinson declined interview requests, and said the district is only sharing the information available on its website, which says that the governor's emergency order did not give the transportation department "sufficient time to contract and onboard enough drivers and implement bus routes for all students."

As of March 18, the district said, only about half of the required bus drivers are available to drive the approximately 400 buses necessary to transport the students in this round of reopening.

In response, yellow buses have been prioritized for students that the district has a legal obligation to serve and those who are most vulnerable.

While much of the district's reopening plan looks similar to those in eight neighboring districts KUOW reviewed, those districts are offering transportation in their reopening plans to all students who typically qualify.

What are some of the key health and safety measures?

  • Along with keeping in-person students in cohorts as advised by the CDC to minimize opportunities for viral transmission, the tentative agreement would require that students are seated at least six feet from each other in classrooms and do not share school supplies or materials.
  • Masks would be required for all staff and students, with exceptions for students with documented disabilities that make mask-wearing dangerous or difficult.
  • Students would wash their hands at least four times while learning in the building.
  • The district would be required to stock each building with a 30-workday supply of personal protective equipment, like masks for staff, students, families and visitors, and the same quantity of cleaning and sanitizing supplies, including hand sanitizer in each classroom
  • The district would also be required to maintain HVAC standards to prevent viral transmission, and add MERV-13 or portable HEPA air filters to buildings, including to classrooms where the school’s central ventilation system is insufficient
  • Student cohorts would be assigned specific building entrances and separate bathrooms as much as possible
  • Late student drop-off and early pick-up would not be allowed
  • Visitors in schools would be avoided, including family members, caregivers, and volunteers
  • Building safety committees at each school would oversee building preparation and protocols and flag any safety issues for the district’s Central Covid Team to address within 48 hours.

What would happen if there is a Covid outbreak?

In the event of an outbreak in one cohort or group of students ( defined as two or more members of the cohort testing positive for Covid within a 14-day period) the entire group would be required to quarantine for two weeks, including any staff or students who share a household with a member of the group.

In the event of multiple simultaneous such outbreaks in a school, the entire school may be closed and switch to remote learning for two weeks.

What comes next?

If the agreement is ratified, the district plans to send families eligible for this round of reopening a survey to ask whether they want their children to continue with remote learning or return for in-person classes.

The district and union next plan to negotiate the instructional model for grades 6 through 12, which must offer in-person options at least part-time by April 19 according to Gov. Inslee’s emergency proclamation.

That phase of negotiations — while on an accelerated timeline — will have fewer issues to resolve because most were already bargained for this first reopening plan.