Skip to main content

You make this possible. Support our independent, nonprofit newsroom today.

Give Now

Return to school delayed for Seattle students pre-K to grade 1

caption: Laurelhurst Elementary in northeast Seattle.
Enlarge Icon
Laurelhurst Elementary in northeast Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Seattle Public Schools' phased timeline for reopening prioritizes getting students receiving special education services, and those in grades pre-K through 1 back into the classroom on March 1.

But Superintendent Denise Juneau announced Thursday that "it is unlikely" that students in pre-K through grade 1 will be learning in person by then, citing ongoing negotiations with the Seattle Education Association.

However, Juneau said the district did still anticipate the return of students receiving intensive special education services come March 1.

Currently, the district has in place a fully remote learning model, with the exception of some special education students whose individualized learning plans specifically call for in-person instruction.

The district has proposed creating a hybrid learning schedule under which students eligible to return, assigned to an A or B group, would each receive two days of in-person learning. Moving from remote to in-person instruction would inevitably change teacher assignments for students, Juneau said, adding that the split grouping is "the least disruptive."

In an online presentation on Thursday, district officials pointed to recommendations from Washington state officials that schools reopen incrementally, starting with small groups of students.

"Like you, we're responding to the most up-to-date guidance from public health experts, as [it becomes] available, said Wyeth Jessee, the district's chief of schools and continuous improvement. "We talk to our local health care experts, who help inform us about all the changes that have taken place — anywhere from how we need to have our health and safety protocols, to our testing, and then now ... about the vaccination.

"We know a lot more now than we did back last March," Jessee continued. "Schools are not the high transmission zones that we all thought they were. With the proper precautions, we will and can bring students back."

Many, however, have expressed wariness about reopening in-person classrooms prematurely — especially as new strains of the coronavirus spread across the country, with the U.K. variant of the virus now detected in Washington state.

About half of families in the district say they want to see their students return to school, while 30% of staff have indicated they wish to continue teaching remotely, according to Clover Codd, the district's chief human resources officer.

Last week, Washington state's Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal unveiled a plan aimed at helping teachers access Covid-19 vaccinations, once they become eligible for the shots. The plan OKs the springtime return of some teachers, mostly those teaching younger grades and providing special education services, prior to being vaccinated.

RELATED: WA's plan to vaccinate teachers, reopen schools gets mixed reviews

Juneau said Seattle Public Schools expects to wrap up negotiations with the Seattle Education Association by mid-February, and will provide an update to families on the district's reopening timeline by Monday, February 22.

Why you can trust KUOW