Students and Families

Page last updated: October 11, 12:45 p.m. 

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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?

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 3-5 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. 
  • Are neither fully vaccinated nor recovered from confirmed COVID-19 in the past three months but attend a school following a “test to stay” protocol. Those following a test to stay protocol must still quarantine at home away from others except for attending school. The student should not participate in extracurricular or after school activities and should avoid social gatherings. 

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, the length of which may vary depending on the school’s assessment of risk and capacity. Under the modified quarantine guidelines, monitor for symptoms for the full 14 days and follow the testing guidelines required by your child’s school.

If your student develops symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or receives a positive test result, isolate from others and follow appropriate guidance

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.