Masks will be available, in case someone forgot to pack an extra.

No, this is not a drill. After more than a year of remote instruction during the coronavirus pandemic, Seattle Public Schools will offer in-person learning once again. 

Last week, the district and Seattle Education Association finalized an agreement to bring elementary school students back to classrooms. On April 5, all K–5 students will start a hybrid schedule that includes four half-days of in-person instruction per week. The system already opened its doors on Monday to preschoolers and some elementary school students enrolled in special education services.

In one sense, the announcement wasn’t much of a surprise. The contract between SPS and the teachers union follows Washington governor Jay Inslee’s emergency proclamation, which set an April 5 deadline to get elementary schoolers back into classrooms for at least two days a week.

In another sense, it was a dizzying departure from a whirlwind of uncertainty that has surrounded school reopenings since Covid-19 began spreading throughout the region. For months on end, Seattle’s back-to-school dates have been bandied about, only to be kicked further down the road as the district and union negotiate how to operate a school safely amid a public health crisis. Until recently, teachers weren't prioritized in the state's vaccine line, which only further complicated matters.

So how's this going to work, exactly? Some basics:

  • Elementary school students will attend either a morning or afternoon block four days per week, unless they want to continue to be 100 percent remote. Everyone will go virtual on Wednesdays.
  • Masks will be required. So will a daily health screening.
  • For now, SPS is sticking to six feet of distancing between classmates. The CDC and state say schools can lower that number to three feet.
  • Classes will be capped at 15 kids.
  • Two confirmed cases of Covid-19 over a 14-day period within a cohort sends everyone in that room home for two weeks.

SPS has more of the nitty-gritty, which isn't applicable to all just yet. The district and union are still working out the specifics of an April 19 in-person return for middle and high schoolers, as mandated by the governor. Until then, and maybe quite a bit after, the Seattle schools saga will continue.

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