Students and Families

Page Last reviewed: July 26, 2023, 2:08 p.m.

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In-person Instruction and Remote Learning

Why is in-person instruction happening?

Students returned 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 2022–23 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 (DOH) of the Superintendent of Public Instruction have identified two goals:

  • Minimize transmission of COVID-19 among students and staff in K-12 schools and to their families and the broader community. 
  • Maximize in-person instruction.

You can find the DOH guidance under which schools are operating this year here. (English) (additional language options)

Is in-person learning safe?

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.

Do students have the option to attend school remotely?

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. 


Preventing COVID-19 in Schools

What are the physical distancing recommendations in the classroom?

The Washington State Department of Health recommends 3 feet of physical distancing in classrooms and 6 feet elsewhere to the greatest extent 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. 

Are schools still required to screen all students, staff, and visitors for symptoms? 

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. 

Dance and Event Planning Guide for Schools (PDF, updated 3/31/22)

Masks and Face Coverings in Schools

What are the masking requirements?

Effective March 12, 2022 masks (or a face shield with a drape for those with developmental, behavioral, or medical conditions) are no longer required indoors for staff and students in most situations. Students and staff can choose to continue masking in school settings and might have personal reasons for choosing to mask.

Masks are still required in nurse/health rooms and isolation rooms.

There are times when temporary masking may be required in schools:

  • Students and staff should mask on days 6-10 after they have completed a 5-day isolation period unless they receive a negative rapid-antigen test.
  • During clusters and/or outbreaks in classrooms or student groups.

Situations where masks are recommended include:

  • The student or staff has a known COVID-19 exposure. It is recommended that exposed students and staff wear a well-fitting mask for 10 days after exposure, especially during activities like high-risk indoor sports and performing arts.
  • If the student or staff is immunocompromised, medically fragile, and/or otherwise high risk for severe disease.
  • Staff who provide for students and children with disabilities that require close contact should strongly consider wearing appropriate PPE when providing care.
  • School programs such as choir, band, speech/debate, dance and theatre should consider wearing appropriate masks and/or use appropriate bell covers while practicing and/or performing.
  • Masking with appropriate material should be considered in general music and elementary classrooms when students are singing.
  • Athletes, coaches, trainers, and other sport team staff should consider wearing masks when participating in indoor activities, especially high-risk indoor sports (e.g., basketball, wrestling, cheer), and the indoor space is not well ventilated.

  CDC Graphic: Mask requirements in K-12 schools limited COVID-19 outbreaks Opens in new window

What kind of masks/face coverings are acceptable? 

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.

Are masks required on school buses?

Masks are no longer required on school buses. To reduce the risk of transmission students may choose to mask while on the bus.

What is the mask requirement for sports?

The most recent guidance related to masking and testing requirements for school sports can be found here. Athletes, coaches, trainers, and other sport team staff should consider wearing masks when participating in indoor activities, especially high-risk indoor sports (e.g., basketball, wrestling, cheer), and the indoor space is not well ventilated.


Quarantine and Isolation Guidelines for Students and Families

My student was exposed to someone with a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 but doesn’t have symptoms. When can they go back to school?

Please note: On March 10, 2022, DOH updated isolation and quarantine requirements for K-12 schools. The updates came into effect March 12.

Exposed students and staff may continue to take part in all in-person instruction and care, including sports, performing arts, and other extracurricular activities, as long as they are not symptomatic. If your student has been exposed to someone with COVID-19, please notify your student’s school and inquire about recommendations and policies they have in place. 

Regardless of vaccination status, exposed students and staff are encouraged to:

  • Monitor for symptoms for 10 days after their last exposure. 
  • Wear a well-fitting mask for 10 days after their last exposure, especially during activities. high-risk indoor sports, performing arts, etc.
  • Test 3-5 days after their last exposure.

In some situations, schools may continue existing testing programs to ensure uninterrupted, full-time, in person learning. This guidance also applies to school staff. Not all schools have the capacity to offer Test to Stay, and schools may vary somewhat in the specific guidance they provide around quarantine. Please check with your student’s school for specific quarantine guidelines before returning to school.

For schools with the capacity to offer a Test to Stay protocol, the student may continue to attend school and extracurricular activities following their exposure but must:

  • Get tested at least twice over a 10-day period, at a period to be recommended by the school.
  • Have no symptoms.
  • Monitor for symptoms for 10 days.

What is close 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.

My student tested positive for COVID-19. When can they return to school?

Follow isolation guidance and limit contacts with others as much as possible.

Your student can return to school when it has been:

  • 5 days since symptoms started or, if your child had no symptoms, 5 days since there was a positive test result AND
  • 24 hours after fever resolves without use of fever-reducing medications AND 
  • Symptoms have improved.

If your student returns to school for days 6-10, it is recommended they:

  • Wear a well-fitting mask (or a face shield with a drape for those with developmental, behavioral, or medical conditions) OR
  • Test negative with an antigen or at-home test. 

If your student is not able to wear a well-fitted mask (or a face shield with a drape for those with developmental, behavioral, or medical conditions), and does not test negative, it is recommended continue isolating through the end of day 10. 

What’s the definition of an outbreak?

The Whatcom County Health and Community Services relies upon the outbreak definition adopted by DOH. The definition describes an outbreak as: 

  • multiple cases comprising at least 10% of students, teachers, or staff, within a specified core group OR 
  • at least five (5) cases within a specified core group meeting criteria for a probable or confirmed school-associated COVID-19 case with symptom onset or positive test result within 14 days of each other, who were not identified as close contacts of each other in another setting (i.e. household) outside of the school setting; AND 
  • epidemiologically linked in the school setting or a school sanctioned extracurricular activity. 

A “core group” includes but is not limited to a group engaged in extracurricular activities, a cohort group, classroom before/after school care, etc.

Testing Guidance for School Sports, Performing Arts and Other Activities/Events

On March 10, 2022 DOH modified its K-12 guidance on testing for sports, performing arts and other school activities/events. 

Schools may implement screening testing protocols for athletics, performing arts or other school activities/events. Screening testing can be performed at regular weekly intervals or on the day of the event or competition.