Page last updated: January 3, 2022, 10:18 a.m.
Students are returning to the classroom this fall at the direction of Governor Inslee, the Secretary of Health, and the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Following recommendations and guidelines from the CDC, they have determined that all students will have the opportunity to attend school in-person full time (five days per week) in the 2021–22 school year. School districts will not have the option to provide solely hybrid or remote learning.
School closures over the past two school years have disrupted learning, families, and employment. Students missed out on many of the benefits that come from being in the classroom with peers and teachers, including easy access to meals, technology, physical activity, counselors, and other supportive services. With kids schooled remotely, parents who worked from home have had to juggle work responsibilities and child-rearing, while others have had to find childcare to fill in the void that schools had once filled.
As students return to classrooms, the Washington State Department of Health and Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction have identified two goals:
Recent research and experience show that in-person learning can happen safely when multiple prevention steps are followed. Those steps include required vaccination of school staff and recommended vaccination of students over the age of 12, universal face coverings/masks, physical distancing, hand washing, cleaning/disinfection, ventilation, school-based testing, contact tracing, and isolation/quarantine.
Washington State school districts are required to provide in-person learning, but they are not required to provide a remote option. We suggest you speak to your school district if you have questions about in-person vs. remote learning.
The Washington State Department of Health recommends 3 feet of physical distancing in classrooms and 6 feet elsewhere to the greatest extent possible. This guidance acknowledges that there may be times when 3-6 feet is not possible. State guidance specifies that the inability to maintain physical distancing should not prevent offering full-time, in-person learning. Other prevention measures help protect students and staff when physical distancing cannot be maintained.
Although no formal symptom screening questionnaire or attestation is being used this year, students and staff still need to self-monitor for symptoms and stay home if symptoms develop. These symptoms include: fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea. Schools will also be monitoring students, staff, and visitors for symptoms, and many schools will have the capacity to test those who develop symptoms on-site at school.
Masks (or a face shield with a drape for those with developmental, behavioral, or medical conditions) are required indoors for all staff and students, in compliance with the Secretary of Health’s Mask Order. Staff who are verified to be fully vaccinated can work indoors without masks when students aren’t present.
According to the Secretary of Health’s Mask Order, masking is not required outdoors, regardless of vaccination status. Masks are, however, strongly recommended for unvaccinated individuals when outdoors in crowded spaces or when in close contact with others.
A cloth face covering is anything that completely covers the mouth and nose and fits securely on the sides of the face and under the chin. It should be made of two or more layers of tightly woven fabric with ties or straps that go around a person’s head or behind their ears.
A face shield with a drape can be used by people with developmental, behavioral, or medical conditions that prevent them from wearing a face covering. If used, face shields should extend below the chin, wrap around to the ears, and have no gap at the forehead.
Face coverings or masks with ear loops are preferred over ones that tie around the neck or behind the head during physical activity to reduce the risk of injury. Schools must provide face coverings or masks, as appropriate, for staff and students who do not have them.
Yes. The CDC’s order requiring masks on public transportation, regardless of vaccination status, applies to school buses and transportation.
The most recent guidance related to masking and testing requirements for school sports can be found here. For additional information about masking while practicing and playing sports, see Secretary of Health's Mask Order FAQ.
Please note: the CDC's revised guidance released on Dec. 28, 2021 is intended for the general population. Quarantine and isolation guidelines for K-12 schools remain unchanged for the time being. We are anticipating updated guidance from DOH for special populations.
Data shared by the CDC about school districts that successfully implemented a modified approach to quarantine was used by the DOH to develop an alternative to quarantining at home for students identified as close contacts in a classroom setting. This alternative option consists of schools using frequent testing of students that were close contacts but remain asymptomatic in order to allow them to stay in school during their quarantine period. Schools may vary somewhat in the specific guidance they provide around quarantine. Parents are encouraged to check with your child’s school for specific quarantine guidelines before returning to school.
If your student is a close contact of a known or suspected COVID-19 case, they can follow the modified quarantine protocol if they do not have symptoms and:
If your student does not meet these criteria and is required to quarantine, your child’s school, in consultation with the Health Department, will recommend a quarantine period as follows, depending upon availability and willingness to test.
During this time, the student must remain at home away from others. The student may not participate in extracurricular or before/after school child care or activities and should not attend social gatherings, etc. (This option does not apply for students who have been identified as a close contact from a community-related transmission, such as through a household, social activity, or event contact.)
The definition of a “close contact” varies depending on whether the student is in a classroom or is somewhere else at school. If the contact is between two masked students within a classroom, close contact is defined as within 3 feet. Elsewhere in a school, or if an adult is the case or the contact, or if either of the students are not appropriately masked, close contact is defined as within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes over 24 hours.
In a K-12 indoor classroom, the close contact definition excludes students who were at least three feet away from an infected student when (a) both students were wearing face coverings/masks and (b) other prevention strategies were in place.
Follow isolation guidance and limit contacts with others as much as possible.
Your student can return to school when it has been:
The Whatcom County Health Department relies upon the outbreak definition adopted by DOH. The definition describes an outbreak as:
A “core group” includes but is not limited to a group engaged in extracurricular activities, a cohort group, classroom before/after school care, etc.