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caption: Second grade student Camille watches a video about social distancing and other safety precautions in Ms. Gagne's classroom on Thursday, January 21, 2021, as second-grade students returned to in-person learning at Somerset Elementary School in Bellevue.
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Second grade student Camille watches a video about social distancing and other safety precautions in Ms. Gagne's classroom on Thursday, January 21, 2021, as second-grade students returned to in-person learning at Somerset Elementary School in Bellevue.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Seattle students to start returning to schools: 58% families say they will go back

Seattle Public Schools will reopen in phases beginning Monday after its teachers union approved a tentative agreement with the district. It will be the first time a significant number of students will return to classrooms since the start of the pandemic more than a year ago.

Of families responding to a district survey in the past week, 58 percent of students — more than 14,000 — plan to return in-person by April 5, said district spokesperson Tim Robinson. School staff will contact the 17 percent of students' families who did not respond to the survey over the next few days to determine whether they intend to return or stay remote.

Preschool and intensive special education elementary in-person classes resume Monday. All other elementary students, and special education secondary students, can return April 5. Families may still keep children home for full-time remote learning if they choose.

The reopening plan allows preschool and elementary students, as well as some older students who receive intensive special education services, to learn in-person part-time in either morning or afternoon cohorts. Special education students who are entitled to more hours of services may attend up to full-time.

Seattle Education Association vice-president Uti Hawkins said that more than 80 percent of union members voted to approve the agreement.

“Knowing that there is just as much variety of opinion in our educators as there is in the whole community right now, it just feels very reassuring to know that we really honored their voices with health and safety and some other things that they needed to hear in order to make this transition,” Hawkins said.

The district and union are now negotiating how to reopen middle and high schools. Governor Jay Inslee last week signed an emergency proclamation requiring that all districts offer at least 30 percent of instruction, a minimum of two days a week, in-person to elementary students by April 5, and middle and high school students by April 19. Inslee said doing so was critical given a mental health crisis he said exists for many young people who have been away from school for a year.

That order fast-tracked Seattle Schools’ reopening plans. Prior to the governor’s proclamation, the district and union had only agreed on an unofficial plan to bring back preschool and special education intensive pathways students on March 29, and were bargaining a return for grades K-1.

“I am encouraged the tentative agreement was approved by the majority of SEA members," said Seattle Council PTSA President Manuela Slye. "However, I am highly concerned about the circumstances we are under. We all agree our youth are going through a mental crisis but the Governor’s decision to fix it by rushing to return to in-person school is not the sole solution. We still need nurses, counselors and support staff. “

The state’s largest district is also one of the last major urban districts to reopen to large numbers of students. At present, some 200 students in the district are receiving special education services in buildings.