OLYMPIA, Wash. — Dozens of parents, students and community members gathered in Olympia’s Heritage Park Saturday with a unified message: They want schools fully back open and the governor isn't going far enough with his latest proclamation.
"I came down here to support open schools, I think it’s past time, I think the science and data is in that it can be done safely,” said Tacoma mom Jessica Ritzmann.
Saturday's rally was organized by the group Rise Up Washington. The event came a year after the coronavirus pandemic first forced schools to close and just a day after Gov. Jay Inslee announced a push for reopening them.
"Now is the time for our schools to return this option for in-person learning," Inslee said during a media conference Friday. The governor issued an emergency proclamation, to be signed in the coming days, that requires all schools to offer kindergarten through sixth-grade students an opportunity for in-person learning by April 5. All older students must be offered the opportunity by April 19.
Also by April 19, all school districts must meet at least 30% of average weekly instructional hours as on-campus learning for all students. No student can be offered fewer than two, partial days of in-person learning.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Washington Education Association said the educators’ union agrees a safe return to schools is best for those who choose. However, spokesperson Julie Popper said the governor’s proclamation assumes all schools can provide safe in-person learning.
"Some districts are not yet prepared to safely welcome students back to buildings," Popper said in a statement. "Local unions are actively bargaining with districts to ensure the return to buildings is as safe as possible. Shortcutting those safety processes is not in the best interest of our students, staff, or communities. School districts must partner with local unions and community groups – including communities of color – to ensure safety measures and robust mental health supports are in place before returning to buildings and for families that opt for remote learning."
Meanwhile, parents who gathered in Olympia Saturday said Inslee's proclamation doesn't go far enough.
"It’s great that he’s trying to clean up the mess, but 30% of time in the class room is not adequate, especially when we’re dealing with a deficit of being out of the classroom for a full year," Ritzmann continued.
With just a few months left in the school year, time is quickly running out and many predict this debate will likely continue into the next school year.