Students and Families

Page last updated: January 3, 2022, 10:18 a.m. 

I'm looking for:

In-person Instruction and Remote Learning

Case rates are at some of their highest levels of the pandemic. Why is in-person instruction happening?

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:

  • 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 and here.

Is in-person learning safe?

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.

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 requirements 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. 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. 

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. 

Homecoming and Fall Event Planning Guide for Schools 2021 (PDF)

Masks and Face Coverings in Schools

What are the masking requirements?

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.

 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?

Yes. The CDC’s order requiring masks on public transportation, regardless of vaccination status, applies to school buses and transportation.

What is the mask requirement for sports?

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.


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: 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: 

  • Are fully vaccinated. Your student should be tested 5-7 days after being exposed to someone with COVID-19. They must also wear a mask in all public indoor spaces for 14 days or until they receive a negative test result.
  • Had a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the past 3 months and are fully recovered. Your student should be tested for COVID-19 with an antigen test 5-7 days post-exposure. They must also wear a mask in all indoor public spaces for 14 days or until they receive a negative antigen result and continue to watch for symptoms for 14 days. 

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.

With testing:

  • 7-Day with Negative Test Quarantine (students and staff): Students and staff must quarantine at home. Quarantine can end after 7 full days beginning after the last close contact if no symptoms have developed and after receiving a negative test result. The test should occur no sooner than 5 days post-exposure. Symptoms should be monitored for 14 days.
  • 7-Day Test to Stay Modified Quarantine (students only): For those schools with the capacity to offer a “Test to Stay” protocol, a “modified” quarantine of 7 days may be available. The student may continue to attend school but must:
    • Get tested at least twice during the 7 days of quarantine, at a period to be recommended by the school
    • Have no symptoms
    • Wear a mask
    • Monitor for symptoms for 14 days

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.)

Without testing:

  • 10-day Quarantine: Quarantine for 10 days after the last close contact with the COVID-19 positive person. If any COVID-19 symptoms develop during the 10 days, the student should remain in quarantine and get tested. Continue monitoring for symptoms for 14 days. In certain circumstances, a longer quarantine may be required. 
  • 14-day Quarantine: Quarantine for 14 days after the last close contact. If any COVID-19 symptoms develop during the 14 days, the student should remain in quarantine and get tested.

Modified Quarantine Protocol for Schools Table (PDF)

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:

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

What’s the definition of an outbreak?

The Whatcom County Health Department 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 three (3) 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.