Mar 12, 2021
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript March 12
Washington Governor Jay Inslee held a COVID-19 press conference on March 12, 2021. He provided updates on restrictions, reopening schools, and vaccinations. Read the full news briefing speech transcript here.
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Governor Jay Inslee: (06:42)
All ready, Rosie? Good morning. After one year of closure of our schools, the time has come for every child in the state of Washington to have access to onsite instruction. We are now taking action to make sure that every child has that option available to them across the state of Washington. I will be issuing an emergency proclamation that will give every K-12 student that option for onsite instruction. We’re doing this because we have experienced a mental health crisis for many of our children, and this will provide them an option that suits their needs of their families. It was a year ago, I think, today, or at least this week, that our states started response to the COVID pandemic.
Governor Jay Inslee: (07:38)
This obviously has been a long year for many people, including our students, our parents, and our educators. There’s been much fear and obvious uncertainty. Parents and families have gone above and beyond helping our children as have educators and school staff to find ways to make remote learning as enriching as possible. For some students, remote learning has worked out quite well, and I want to thank educators, school personnel, families, as well as pediatricians, behavioral health practitioners, and others who have provided support for our young people during this difficult year.
Governor Jay Inslee: (08:22)
I know I have seen how hard people have worked during this year to help our children. I’ve seen teachers teach my own grandchildren, and I know that teachers across the state have been dynamic, they have been diligent, and they have been innovative and we owe them our profound thanks across the state of Washington for those incredible efforts to try to keep the attention of children focused while they’ve been in this remote setting. But we do know that many, many of our children have not been able to thrive as we wish them to do so without onsite education, without that magic connection that enlightens children when they have access to a tremendous educator in a classroom. For them, we’re taking action today and I’m pleased to do so.
Governor Jay Inslee: (09:14)
More than half of our schools have returned to onsite education, but there are still hundreds of thousands of students who do not have access to that relationship with their teacher in person. Now is the time to provide those students who wish to have that option to be able to access that magic. We’ve asked enough for our students and our families, and I have been motivated to get this option available to more students for some period of time. I’ve had many discussions with educators across the state of Washington. I’ve toured schools across the state. I have reviewed the medical evidence regarding the condition of our students, both from a COVID transmission standpoint and from a mental health standpoint in the recent days.
Governor Jay Inslee: (10:05)
There is now, unfortunately, undeniably a mental healthcare crisis in our state regarding our youth. And so now is the time for our schools to return this option for in-person learning, and I’m taking action to make sure that students in all grades will have this option. One year ago, tomorrow, March 13th, we closed school buildings statewide. Now our state will require schools to offer both in-person instruction for students and families who want it and remote learning options for those who prefer to remain in that situation. This will be done through an emergency proclamation that I will very soon sign. This emergency proclamation we know will not resolve all of our concerns, but it will prohibit K-12 schools from refusing to provide this onsite option to parents who so desire.
Governor Jay Inslee: (11:05)
In many schools, they will operate in a hybrid model where students are divided into groups and receive partial in-person instruction and partial remote in order to accommodate health and safety requirements that we have set forth. This order allows for staggering reintroduction of students into the classroom. Here’s the following guidelines:
Governor Jay Inslee: (11:32)
By April 5th, all students in grades kindergarten through six must have the opportunity to engage in an onsite hybrid model of instruction. And by April 19th, all other K-12 students must be provided a hybrid model of instruction. In schools that are K-5, it’ll apply through K-5.
Governor Jay Inslee: (11:56)
By April 19th, every school district will need to have at least 30% of their pre-pandemic average of weekly instructional hours that will be provided in person for all K-12 students. And under no circumstances will this order allow districts to provide less than two days contact per week for their students. So these may be partial days, but they need to be in contact in-person.
Governor Jay Inslee: (12:27)
Every school district is required to continue efforts to exceed that 30% minimum and must reach the school’s maximum capacity and maximum frequency on campus that the school can provide with all safety and safety regulations in place as soon as possible. Again, preserving options for either option available to families.
Governor Jay Inslee: (12:51)
Now, this is an important point to be clear. Our school districts are still required to provide all safety and health measures that we require in our schools. And it’s simple why that is, obviously. Health and safety requirements mean just what they say. We need to make sure that we keep staff and students safe in these conditions.
Governor Jay Inslee: (13:16)
Now, there is some good news. More teachers and staff now have an added layer of protection getting vaccinated, and that is increasing every day. But that does not mean that we can let up on our safety commitments to our staff and to our children. Now, why do we believe this can be done safely? It is in some sense simple, it is because it is being done safely. There are over 1,400 schools that are doing this safely today with minimal in school transmission. There are over 200 school districts who have been able to figure this out. And there are over 400,000 students that have safely been able to enjoy onsite instruction should their families so desire. This is a wondrous miracle that we want every child to be able to experience. We know we can do this safely, and we’re confident in our ability to do that for these reasons.
Governor Jay Inslee: (14:20)
Now, all along our response to the COVID pandemic has been responding to new data, new science. The scale of this crisis’s impact on our students’ mental and behavioral health cannot be ignored. We know there are issues with children receiving equitable access to mental healthcare before this pandemic, but the pandemic has exacerbated this problem. I will use my authority to do everything possible to preserve public health. The passage of the American Rescue Plan Act re-estimates schools in our state will have received about $2.6 billion, that’s with a B, $2.6 billion in pandemic relief.
Governor Jay Inslee: (15:10)
I’ve heard from many educators who would like that money to go to mental health aid for students with counselors, nurses, and other support workers for a variety of the challenge our students have. I agree with those educators. We need to do this. But these funds, while significant, are one-time dollars. So I encourage districts, as Superintendent Reykdal does, to use these short-term support dollars to support children’s mental health, to support their wellbeing. And we are so appreciative of President Biden and our members of the US Congress who have provided this assistance. It is frankly enormous, and we have enormous needs. We will also use these funds to inform how we work in Washington to achieve long-term solution to remove long-term disparities.
Governor Jay Inslee: (16:09)
The lasting effect of this mental health crisis will be felt for some time. A return to school is not a total catch-all to these challenges. I know that some students have benefited from remote learning, but this return is unequivocally part of the solution for so many younger Washingtonians. Because we need broader solutions to our children’s behavioral needs, this emergency proclamation will also direct our Department of Health and the State Health Care Authority to immediately begin work on recommendations that would detail how to support the behavioral health needs of our children. This will help us address and triage the full spectrum of rising pediatric behavioral health needs that we know that we need. I am joined with our Superintendent of Public Instruction today, whose leadership I appreciate, and I now turn this over to Chris Reykdal.
Chris Reykdal: (17:11)
Thank you, Governor. [inaudible 00:17:12] Superintendent of Public Instruction. What a remarkable year this has been. indescribable in some ways, challenging every single day but hopeful and increasingly hopeful. As this state has been one grounded in the science, a year ago to this day almost, almost to the hour, the Governor and I stood alongside each other to make a very difficult announcement around the need to close our schools; at the time we thought for six weeks. It turns out that was effectively the rest of the last school year. But from that moment, the hard work of public health, our educators, our superintendents locally, our school board members, especially students and parents, bus drivers, counselors, custodians, the entire system is trying to create opportunity starting very small in some places and increasingly expanding that opportunity. By this summer, this last summer and fall, we had very clear guidance, very clear non-pharmaceutical intervention…
Chris Reykdal: (18:03)
… fall, we had very clear guidance, very clear non-pharmaceutical interventions led by public health experts on how to open schools safely and sustainably, and more than 200 districts around the state have done that. As you heard the governor say, more than 400,000 students. But that access has been very disproportionate.
Chris Reykdal: (18:17)
I want to briefly just tell you kind of where we are today and give you a little more information on the data side and then close it out from my perspective. We’ve got about 50% of our elementary school students statewide accessing some in-person instruction right now. When you talk to families or you’re in these classrooms, which I get to do through Zoom and a couple of in site visits, you see the magic that the faces light up. The human contact necessary for young people to fully develop both academically and socially emotionally is amazing. And the energy that’s out there is inspiring. And I want to just encourage and thank folks for that.
Chris Reykdal: (18:52)
We’ve got about 40% of middle school students who have had that opportunity. And about 30% of high school students are getting some in-person instruction every week. We’ve got to do better, we’ve got to do more and we’ve got to make it ubiquitous. The entire system of public education needs to be accessible for students. As you heard the governor say, still within the health guidelines, we’ll largely be hybrid. Given some of the physical distancing requirements that are being reviewed by both the CDC and our public health officials here, it means not every student every day, all day. It means all students the opportunity to do some in-person learning in their facilities. The pandemic, as the governor has indicated, has had a profound mental health impact on students and I think there will be more information about that in the next week or two to really help folks understand, including some guests we have here today that will describe more specifically the impacts that they’ve observed. What we see in the education system is the effects of isolation and the trauma of what’s happened for a lot of our students. In the form of engagement or student attendance, we are unfortunately at every grade level seeing impacts, but especially middle school and high school where we take a three-year look every January for the last three years and see that attendance, full day of additional absence this year, a spike we have never seen. You extrapolate that over the duration of a school year, you’re talking about nine or 10 more days of absence for the typical middle school student or more and a very similar pattern in high school.
Chris Reykdal: (20:26)
As a result, academically, students are struggling as well. We’re seeing Ds, Fs, incompletes, and no credits up this year. And specifically students who are F, incompletes, or no credits at the high school system, we see a significant jump there. Unfortunately, it’s from 17% of all of our students receiving one of those designations in at least one class to 25%. So one out of every four students in the state of Washington is not getting high school credit for one or more classes. And that is a near 50% jump from what we would see in a typical year. It is disproportionate for our American Indian, Alaska native youth. It is disproportionate for Hispanic, Latino, Latina, Latinex students. It is disproportionate for native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders, low income students, English language learners, those students who experience homelessness and others. Big jumps in some of those student groups.
Chris Reykdal: (21:23)
This is the time for us to double down. The governor, through his leadership, the president through his has made more ubiquitous vaccination. We are thousands of educators and staff members into vaccination now with an incredible ramp up that’s occurring. Every day, the science is being reviewed. And as the governor indicated, as those non pharmaceutical interventions are now met with injections of vaccine into the arms of our Washington’s education staff members, the opportunity to open more expeditiously is upon us right now. And it needs to be sped up significantly in communities across the state.
Chris Reykdal: (21:58)
I’ll close with a little bit of where we were a year ago. I said that I watched my daughter Claire’s last volleyball game literally the evening before we had to make that tough announcement. Here we are a year later and she came back from a bus ride last night on an away soccer game with a 3-1 victory. Grateful to see her participate again.
Chris Reykdal: (22:16)
There is enormous hope in our society right now when we think about where we’ve been this last year. It is a product of following the science and the science says we can open school safely, even pre-vaccine, but especially now. It is a product of the discipline of Washington families. Face coverings are enormous. Nothing is going to change about the safety protocols like that that will maintain the safety for staff and students as this ramps up. And as the governor said, there’s $2.6 billion coming into the state just specifically for K-12 to continue the mitigation strategies on health and safety, but to really dive into mental health, academic recovery. We fully, fully expect school districts to have comprehensive plans through a statute our legislators passed [inaudible 00:23:04] plans on how they will specifically identify students academically, socially, emotionally who have been disproportionately impacted, how they will apply those dollars with strategies, and then we will be monitoring those funds over the next 30 months.
Chris Reykdal: (23:16)
I will close by saying they are one-time funds. The governor made that very, very clear. So we asked the legislature once again to recognize that the systemic racism and the disproportionate impacts for some of our communities, both health and academic, they don’t go away just because we spend one time money. Counselors, nurses, mental health supports, social workers and engagements of vulnerable families, that is persistent work that’s going to continue to carry us. And we need the legislature to be thinking about some of those investments as ongoing permanent opportunities. But right now, what an enormous bit of opportunity that’s come from the president and advanced by our governor and we intend to execute very effectively on that. I’ll it back to you, Governor.
Governor Jay Inslee: (24:00)
[inaudible 00:24:00] for your leadership on this. It’s so important. I just wanted to follow up something Chris mentioned. He mentioned masks. When I’ve gone to the schools, I think I’ve gotten a five or six now, I hear an absolutely uniform comment from the staff, from the custodians, the nurses, the counselors, the teachers, the principals. They all tell me the same thing. These kids are crazy. They wear their masks. It’s extraordinary how disciplined they are. It’s something, frankly, I wouldn’t have predicted. It’s one of the reasons I think that we have been pleasantly, if not surprised, at least given more confidence about why we have such low transmission in school is because these kids really wear their masks. In fact, I’ve talked to some of them. Sometimes they think the kids are even better at keeping it above their noses than some of the adults on the staff.
Governor Jay Inslee: (24:55)
So this has been one of our secrets of success, and I’m totally confident that we will be able to replicate that success in the schools that have not yet provided this option. So we ought to be really confident going forward. What we’ve done in these other places we can do in some additional ones.
Governor Jay Inslee: (25:13)
We’re pleased to join with Dr. Nwando Anyaoku, who has a background in pediatrics. Dr. Nwando Anyaoku is a former director of pediatrics at Swedish Hospital in Seattle, is currently Swedish’s first ever Chief Health Equity Officer. She is here to talk about the mental health crisis that our children are experiencing during the pandemic and how a lack of in-person instruction is contributing to this crisis. Thank you doctor. We appreciate you being here.
Dr. Nwando Anyaoku: (25:46)
Thank you, Governor, for having me. My name is Dr. Nwando Anyaoku, and as the governor said, I’m the Chief Health Equity Officer at Swedish. A pediatrician by training, I was most recently the chief of pediatrics here at Swedish, and I’m also a mom of two teenagers, so this is near and dear to my heart apart from my professional space.
Dr. Nwando Anyaoku: (26:08)
This pandemic has been a challenge for everyone. Our lives have been turned upside down. I’m thankful that we are one year out and that we’re having a different conversation this year than we were having at this time last year. But I’m also particularly thankful for the vaccine, which has given us a new level of hope. And we’ve been very engaged in that here at Swedish and been very happy to see our elders and people of color get access to the vaccine. And now, thanks to the governor, we’re also able to give our teachers vaccines, which adds an additional layer of safety and reassurance as we talk about this.
Dr. Nwando Anyaoku: (26:45)
But I really want to talk about the impact on the children, and especially children of color and marginalized populations. Here at Swedish, we have seen an extraordinary increase in the number of emergency department and inpatient admissions due to psychiatric and behavioral health issues. A lot of stress, suicidal ideation, suicidal attempt. Just heartbreaking numbers. In just the first two years of two months of 2021, we’re up 25% over last year. And we just know that that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Those are children who have gotten so bad that they actually arrived at the hospital. But if you extrapolate that to the community, that means there’s vast numbers of children out there who are suffering who are not being seen, who haven’t risen to that visibility level. And that’s just something that we can’t allow to continue.
Dr. Nwando Anyaoku: (27:40)
If you think about how any of us thought as teenagers especially, this is a time that they’re thinking about their life ahead of them and their hopes and their ideas, and just not being able to go to school and connect with their friends and have that social development connection that they’ve had, it makes it so hard for them to think of hope, of possibility. And that’s just difficult for children to manage. And so this mental health crisis is a real and present danger to a whole generation. And I’m thankful that, as a state, that we’ve worked collaboratively with our governor’s leadership to really talk about how we support one another on this journey.
Dr. Nwando Anyaoku: (28:18)
I want to call out particularly the impact on minority and marginalized population. These children we already know have challenges accessing healthcare, have challenges accessing mental health care. And so for a lot of them, being in school is where they have access to school-based resources and social workers and therapists and all those things that they now don’t have if they’re not able to attend school in person. So we think about school in terms of the things we learn, but also the support that it provides to these families is really critical. We’ve talked about the systemic and structural challenges that have created these disparities and this pandemic has only amplified those things. So the digital divide has been just widened for a whole generation of children. For children for whom parents don’t speak English as a first language, they don’t have the support to navigate these technological challenges that we now have to make part of our normal life.
Dr. Nwando Anyaoku: (29:11)
So I’m really grateful that as a state, we’re talking about how we can support our schools to get these children back into in-person lessons, at least some portion of the day. My colleague who’s going to speak after me from the Academy of Pediatrics can share in more detail about the work that the Washington chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics has done to stand up [inaudible 00:29:34] of pediatricians who stand ready to support our school districts to bring children back to school safely. So thank you so much for this opportunity to have this conversation. And I look forward to answer your questions as they come up.
Governor Jay Inslee: (29:47)
Thank you, doctor. We now have Dr. Peter Asante. Dr. Asante is a pediatrician who sits on the board of the state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. He practices at Yakima Pediatrics, which is a clinic of Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital where Trudy and ours three little bouncing babies arrived in the day. Dr. Asante, thanks for joining us.
Dr. Peter Asante: (30:16)
Hi, good afternoon. And it’s a pleasure to be here. I will apologize in advance because living in a rural area, my internet connection is all out of whack. So I think it sort of underscores the problem in terms of sending your kids back to school. But to everybody out there, good morning. My name is Dr. Peter Asante. I’m a pediatric doctor in Yakima, Washington, where I serve both children and adolescents, but I’m also speaking to you as a board trustee for the Washington chapter of the American Academy [inaudible 00:31:10].
Governor Jay Inslee: (31:13)
Dr. Asante, could you pause for a moment? Could you just pause? Dr. Asante, could you pause for a moment please? Doctor, we’re having some difficulties here. Have you turned off your video? That sometimes helps us. Could you turn off your video in case it’s on and take another stab at this on audio? Is that possibility? Why don’t you try that? Jose, are we turned off yet?
Dr. Peter Asante: (31:44)
Yeah. Yeah. Is that any better?
Governor Jay Inslee: (31:48)
We don’t know. Let’s try for a moment.
Dr. Peter Asante: (31:49)
Is that better?
Governor Jay Inslee: (31:52)
We hope so. Why don’t you give it another try?
Dr. Peter Asante: (31:54)
Yeah, I get it. Yeah, no worries. So I just wanted to say thank you all for giving me the opportunity to speak with you this morning about the impact of the pandemic and how the continued closure of our schools will continue to get worse in the significant mental health impact of our youth in Washington state.
Dr. Peter Asante: (32:19)
I believe strongly, as does the Academy, that an environment for our young people to get back to work, the work that is their education within the physical school. And schools, as everybody knows, provides an essential time for children to be together, socialize and develop a [inaudible 00:32:36] as well as food hungry children and support our struggling families. And as my colleague before me just spoke about, we are now in a bit of a public health crisis when it comes to the impact of school closures on our children.
Dr. Peter Asante: (32:51)
In my clinical practice, I care for many teens who are distressed that they have not been able to return to school, especially as they’ hae seen their friends at private schools have the chance to resume in person instruction.
Dr. Peter Asante: (33:06)
I’ve heard many accounts of youth that I take care of within my adolescent clinic who are struggling to stay motivated and to stay in school. Many of who are [inaudible 00:33:17] anxiety, and suicidal ideation. All these profound losses that we have had due to the pandemic and risks to children and adolescents can be modified lessons or even overcome if we simply get kids safely back to school as quickly and as often as possible.
Dr. Peter Asante: (33:38)
We do applaud President Biden and Governor Inslee’s commitment to getting teachers their first vaccines in March. However, the right prevention measures in place will allow our kids to go back to school safely and keep our teachers safe if we enact them today, things such as consistent masking, spacing, screening, ventilation and careful cohorting are simple strategies which work. When these layers of prevention are in play, that is clear from return to school experiences. Outbreaks are highly uncommon and are not typically borne from student interaction.
Dr. Peter Asante: (34:21)
Districts across Washington state have had highly positive experiences with back to school. We all have countless personal and anecdotal examples of this within various childcare spaces and private school settings. And even in the outpatient clinic where I mostly work, I am proud to report that we have been able to resume the busy schedule of seeing children for their well and acute visits without contributing to worsening the devastating statistics related to morbidity and mortality [inaudible 00:34:59] clinical capacity has not led to outbreaks among our staff and the patients that we serve. And we expect that that will also be true when we send kids back to school.
Dr. Peter Asante: (35:08)
We are deeply grateful for the efforts of our administrators and staff to recreate school in safe ways. And we celebrate the teachers, some of whom I care for their children and the Yakima Valley, who have taken on the new challenges of educating kids in persons safely. Now we must disseminate and spread these great strides all across Washington so kids can get back to school and restart their lives in healthy ways.
Dr. Peter Asante: (35:37)
At this point, the continued delay of the resumption of school in person in all public and private spheres will contribute to widening achievement gaps and health inequities that will plague our children a lifetime. And I trust that with the collaboration and attention to science, we can create a plan that gets our children back to school and keep our staff and administration safe.
Dr. Peter Asante: (36:02)
And keep our staff and administration safe. We learned that it takes a village to raise children. And as a child health advocate, I salute and celebrate our families heroic [inaudible 00:36:12] to support the nurturing of their children, and the rest of us, to bolster our family’s capacity to nurture our young people as well. Sending our kids back to in-person school not only tells our children that they matter and we care for them, but it also [inaudible 00:36:30] that at this time in the pandemic, we are opening the world all back up, where we are opening the world back up to normal. We are [inaudible 00:36:53] education is valuable and the right of our children. And in this pandemic, we have learned that that value is in in-school statewide. So our children literally depend on it. And I look forward to your questions. Thank you.
Governor Jay Inslee: (37:12)
Thank you, Dr. Asante. I think we got the gist of what you were saying, and we appreciate it to talk about the success that schools have had and across the state to make sure this can be done safely. We heard you thank educators and parents working on that. And I appreciate your effort on behalf of our kids in the Yakima Valley. I’ll make some more comments before we stand for question. We know we have much, much more work to do for the mental health and behavioral health of our children, not just this proclamation. My proposed budget includes a number of priority items to address behavioral health issues. And I am considerably optimistic that the legislature will send them back for my signature. These priorities include an increase in Medicaid rates, for behavioral health services to retrain the workforce, and ensure access and continuing to fund the mental health referral service for our children and teens.
Governor Jay Inslee: (38:18)
My proposed budget also expands mobile crisis units for our young people to ensure that existing teams can meet demand. It also changes Medicaid policy to adopt best practices for mental health assessments and diagnoses for our young children. And it establishes a work group to help behavioral health experts in clinics to help more people seeking their certification or licenser in this field. But I do want to reiterate the billions of dollars that will be available for our districts to help with the behavioral health needs of our children. And we believe there is going to be every resource imaginable for the type of experts we need, of nurses and counselors and other social service provisions, for our young people. And we’re so grateful about that opportunity. So we are going to continue to address the pandemic impact on Washingtonians kids’ mental health long into the future.
Governor Jay Inslee: (39:26)
And there’s another thing I want to, if I can… This pandemic has made visible something that we know, or should have known for long periods of time, and that is the inequities, the racial inequities that our children have experienced in our state. The pandemic has made it just worse. And we hope by providing more parents and option to have onsite education that we will ameliorate that. But we have much, much more work to do. And it is my commitment that we are going to continue a robust conversation about how to take additional long-term strides in this regard. We know that we need more educators of color in our schools. We know this is very important, to give children more confidence in their schooling. We know we need more behavioral health services that are available to our children. We know we have continuing issues we have to work to prevent discipline disparities in our school. All of those things are going to require long-term efforts above and beyond what we do by means of this proclamation. But it is a first start, and I look forward to moving in that regard.
Governor Jay Inslee: (40:42)
One other thing just for clarification. This proclamation does not require that districts be limited to a hybrid model. Where they can provide the health and safety protocols, they would be able to go back to other models. But I think it is probably going to be the predominant method because it has been to date in most of our schools across the state of Washington. So with that, I’m happy to stand for your questions. You may fire when ready, Gridley.
Perfect. We’ll go to Rachel [inaudible 00:41:17]. Go ahead, Rachel.
Governor, has a decision been made yet on whether to wait the six foot rule for schools given the concerns expressed concerning the logistics on reopening related to that requirement? And either for the governor or superintendent, [inaudible 00:41:34], has any of the federal stimulus money allocation that was signed into law last month and sent out to the school districts yet? Any districts at risk of not getting funding because they missed the March 1st deadline for an updated reopening plan?
Governor Jay Inslee: (41:47)
Chris, you want to handle the financial part first?
Chris Reykdal: (41:51)
Sounds great. To the specifics to this, we’ve had three rounds of federal aid. First round was about $200 million for school districts. That was all put out months and months ago. And virtually all of that has been utilized and consumed by districts. The second round, just this week, we have sent notification to 271 school districts that their March one plans meet the expectations of both the federal government and our state legislature and governor through the signature of legislation. They’ve demonstrated the protocols. They have agreements in place. They have demonstrated openings. So we’re in pretty good shape there. About 35 districts, however, will not really be eligible for those dollars, the second round dollars, this month, because there’s some voids in their plan. There’s a lack of certainty that they’re going to get to middle and high school. There’s just more work we have to do and we’re going to continue to support those districts. This announcement will certainly help in that for those districts, I believe.
Chris Reykdal: (42:48)
The third round of resources from the federal government was just signed by the president in the last 48 hours. Our legislator’s in town, so they will officially [inaudible 00:42:59] that, we expect by the end of session. We do not expect barriers to that, assuming these last districts build meaningful plans following this announcement by the governor. So that’s where we sit with the financial support and the status of districts.
Governor Jay Inslee: (43:16)
Regarding the six foot rule, neither this proclamation, nor anything in the near future from our Department of Health, would modify the six foot rule. So that’s unlikely to change in the immediate future. I will say however that I believe that we will continue to look at that with increasing interest, as more evidence is coming in. The World Health Organization has recommended a three-foot requirement. Quite a number of pediatric research would suggest that three-foot would be adequate. And the continuing tremendous success in what we’ve had to date of very, very, very minimal in school transmission, again, because teachers have been so brilliant and keeping kids wearing masks, and custodians have been really good at hygiene, and nurses and counselors have been really good at contact tracing. This combination of these measures have been extremely successful. So I think in the upcoming months, we will have a continued review of that rule as we have more science available to us, but we’re not making that recommendation at the moment. In part, because we want to continue to have high confidence level of people in the existing protocols.
Governor Jay Inslee: (44:42)
I do want to make sure people understand though, the six foot requirement is not an impediment to providing an onsite opportunity for students. And reason we know that is that we have about 1,400 schools that are capable and have demonstrated the ability to do that, principally through different hybrid models to be able to provide this. So there is nothing either in this proclamation or experience to say that we can’t do this right now in every school in the state of Washington. I’m very confident in our ability to do that. But yes, we will be involved in conversations about this and the months to come. We’ll listen to educators, superintendents, parents, and perhaps most importantly, the medical and the scientific community, about this issue.
All right, up next, we’ll go to Joe Sullivan with the Seattle Times. Go ahead, Joe.
Joe Sullivan: (45:41)
Governor, three part question. You said previously you don’t have the authority to make a statewide order. And here we have one. What changed on that front? Second, what happened if a district or union defies this order? And third, have you made any personal direct appeal to districts or unions, like up in Seattle, to try to get them to open up?
Governor Jay Inslee: (46:01)
You bet. Well, I have talked to union representatives about this issue on several occasions. And I think that people are well aware that my observations of the schools has made it clear to me and to the medical community that this can be done with abundant safety. So yeah, so I think it’s pretty clear that I’ve been encouraging all parties, not just the union members, but the districts as well, that we are encouraging them to work together to provide onsite education. So I’ve made that clear to our parties concerned. And frankly, to date, what I’ve tried to do is to just share information with people, in the hopes that that could increase their confidence. I’ve gone to Robert Frost Elementary in Pasco, Stevens Elementary in Puyallup, Phantom Lake Elementary in Bellevue, Firgrove Elementary in Puyallup, Elk Ridge School in Buckley.
Governor Jay Inslee: (47:02)
And in every one of those stops, I’ve been very impressed with the ability to do this safely, and, and this is important, and with the high level of confidence that the educators, the teachers, the counselors, everybody in the community, that we’re very confident in their ability to do this. And that was not always the case. There was one conversation if I have… And I’m going to take a minute, if I can. I’m going to answer all three parts, but I want to take a minute to talk about this issue. I’ve had a similar conversation to one that really stands out to me of a high school mathematics teacher I met in Buckley. And he was at Elk Ridge, but he’s a high school teacher there, the high school in White River. The Hornets, if I recall. He said he was very suspicious of the effort to bring back students on site. He had great concerns about that, which are very, very understandable.
Governor Jay Inslee: (48:01)
And then he was encouraged to go over to Yakima and take a look at some of the hybrid models that they were doing at the high school in Yakima. I can’t remember if it was Davis or Eisenhower. And he said he went over there. And what he discovered is when he looked at what they were doing, they had a hybrid model, which basically means you have half as many students in the classroom and in the hallways at any moment. And it was kind of an aha moment for him that he understood how many opportunities that created to do this safely. So he returned back to Buckley and he worked with his staff on a way to do this. And he just says, “It’s just really worked out really, really well.” And one of his teachers there, I remember saying, it’s 1,000% better in her teaching experience now, even though there were doubts. And it’s funny because the next week I went to Firgrove in Puyallup, and another teacher said the same thing, it’s 1,000 times better.
Governor Jay Inslee: (48:58)
So what I’ve seen is reluctance, concern, anxiety about this, but after educators have had the experience and have worked through these challenges, they have been able to help not only their students, but they’ve enjoyed teaching much more. And that’s a progression. This has been a progression. We know so much more about this virus than we knew when we closed our schools, and so much more about the incredible talents of our educators to surmount them. So yes, I have had conversations. As far as what happens, look, this is a legally binding proclamation. We have full expectations that will be fulfilled. We have been, so far, very, very gratified that Washingtonians by an extremely high percentage have been following the law of the state of Washington. And I have at full expectation that we will succeed in this regard. So we’re not here today for threats. We’re here for success, consensus building, and confidence. And I think those things will see us through.
Governor Jay Inslee: (50:02)
The authority issue, we now have information about the extent and depth of the mental health crisis. We did not have all of that earlier in this course. And this is like everything else. We have been successful in Washington because we have adapted to new information. When science comes in, we respond. And that’s what we’re doing here. We’re responding to the science that we now have. It’s one of the reasons we have one of the lowest infection rates. The New York Times just printed an article yesterday that said if the rest of the country were as good as we have been, we might’ve saved 300,000 lives. So we’re doing what has been so successful in our state today, which is we were following the new information that we have, scientific and otherwise. And I feel very good about the direction we’re heading today.
Great. Up next, we’ll go to Laurel Dunkovitch with The Spokesman Review. Go ahead, Laurel.
Laurel Dunkovitch: (51:02)
Hi, Governor. I’m not sure who the best person to answer this is, but can someone speak to the support available for those students who may not be able to come back, whether they are at high risk or their family has a high risk member and they choose to continue remote? Is there any support there, especially for their mental health?
Governor Jay Inslee: (51:23)
Well, this is what the $2.1 billion is going to be available to continue districts to help provide these services for students, remote or onsite. And the remote learning students have challenges as well, obviously. So we are going to expect that our districts will use these resources to provide that kind of mental health services, which will provide additional nursing services and psychological services and communication services and family support services. And again, we’re so happy to have these resources that are now available. Now, the school system is not the only system dedicated to helping these children. We have community clinics. We have Memorial Hospital Clinic. There’s multiple ways to provide services, but schools are integral particularly to help to identify those students who do need these kinds of services. Identifying the problem is really important, and this is where schools are important.
Governor Jay Inslee: (52:27)
One of our concerns about the lack of onsite learning is that we have a decreased ability to recognize cases of child abuse that are frequently discovered while children are at school. And with fewer children at school, we think we have had a significantly reduced ability to pick up a lot of those abuse cases. And it’s another good reason to provide this onsite education. Chris, you want to add anything? Or one of the doctors?
Chris Reykdal: (53:02)
Just to concur, the school districts will certainly have tremendous flexibility with federal dollars for this. We have districts who already partner with community-based organizations or county public health officials, human services, experts for in-home visits and in-home consultation. That isn’t something everyone does ubiquitously, but the resources will be available for that. There’s a flexibility and partnership with some federal dollars that are also going directly to counties, directly to CBOs and mental health organizations. It’s a powerful question because what districts are considering right now, of course, is how to identify academic and social emotional impacts of students in person and remotely. And for the remainder of this year, certainly, that’s a very complicated endeavor. Also would just add, these dollars are here for 30 months. Again, districts need to think about this as a multi-year strategy of interventions with partners and not a quick fix, and maybe even beyond the 30 months for a lot of students. I think that’s pretty understandable.
Governor Jay Inslee: (53:57)
And if I may, just a comment, we need to understand that our teachers-
Governor Jay Inslee: (54:03)
We need to understand that our teachers, every year, have more and more challenges dealing with their students’ challenges. Every year, more and more kids are homeless, suffer chemical difficulties in their families, have underlying psychological difficulties, deal with poverty.
Governor Jay Inslee: (54:20)
Every year, this is a more and more difficult and challenging job for teachers who are expected to be everything to every need that a child or a family could provide. And it is one reason why we need to increase the resources that are dedicated to the support networks around the child. It’s not just reading, writing, and arithmetic anymore.
Governor Jay Inslee: (54:41)
It’s a full service and we have to provide these full services. That means additional nursing staff, additional counselors over time. And this has been clear to me before this pandemic. It’s been even more obvious to me now. So it’s great that we have short-term resources to respond to that, but there will be increasing needs for us to respond to those resources, in my view, over time.
Speaker 1: (55:11)
[inaudible 00:55:11] Do you have something you wanted to add there?
Speaker 2: (55:15)
Just quickly a reminder for everyone, that there are some mental and behavioral health resources available on Coronavirus.wa.gov. If you click on the mental and emotional wellbeing section. And those include teen link, which is a service for young people, access to the crisis text line, and tools for parents and families around emotional and mental health. And so want to make sure our families are aware that they have access to those resources as well.
Speaker 1: (55:45)
Okay. Up next, we’ll go to Sarah Gensler with McClatchy. Go ahead, Sarah.
Sarah Glenser: (55:55)
Governor, I’m not sure I understood your answer to Joe’s question earlier regarding authority. So I just want to clarify. So I understand the information regarding mental health impacts changed, but what prompted the change and understanding of your authority to order schools to open?
Governor Jay Inslee: (56:11)
The conditions changed. The law did not. The same RCW chapter, which we’re well aware of, but the conditions changed. The scientific information changed. The more robust and clinically valid information that is now available to us, allowed us to use the preexisting authority. So, it started to rain, basically. We became aware of that. We had the scientific information to back that up. So the authority did not change. The conditions changed where it could be used. Am I sufficiently clear in that regard? If I may.
Speaker 1: (56:52)
Yes. Thank you.
Governor Jay Inslee: (56:54)
Speaker 1: (56:54)
All right. Up next, we’ll go to Jerry Cornfield, with the Everett Herald. Go ahead, Jerry.
Governor Jay Inslee: (57:02)
I guess maybe the way I could have articulated that previous answer is the conditions did not exist to our knowledge, to be able to use the preexisting authority. That’s probably the more accurate way that I could have answered that question.
Speaker 1: (57:18)
Okay. Go ahead, Jerry.
Jerry Cornfield: (57:22)
Yeah. Governor, another clarification, and maybe Superintendent Reykdal is better to answer it. If all but 35 school districts in the state right now have approved reopening plans, I’m just wondering if you can talk about the mesh between that and this proclamation. The school districts might be a little confused if you told them it’s okay, what they’re doing. Are they going to have to now update those plans to meet the timelines? Can you talk about how those two come together?
Governor Jay Inslee: (57:53)
Yeah. So this proclamation is a requirement for the districts to comply with. So that is a requirement. We won’t necessarily require them to give me a plan. We just need to give us action. So we just need to see the schools provide this on-site option. That will be satisfactory if they meet these requirements.
Chris Reykdal: (58:17)
Yeah, we think virtually all the 271 districts who have provided approved plans, they are running the model, or above, the threshold the Governor has established here. They are in a hybrid models. They provide it for in-person instruction, elementary, middle, high, or they’re very close to opening middle and high.
Chris Reykdal: (58:36)
They are providing the kind of instructional time consistent with this. There may be some Jerry, who need to get to that 30% threshold, a little reconfiguration of hours. It is essentially 10 hours a week of instructional time out of say 32 to 35 total maximum.
Chris Reykdal: (58:52)
That is normal in a normal school year for an instructional week. But I think the districts who are greenlight right now are going to feel very good about this. It’s consistent with what they’re doing. There may need to be a little tweak in the amount of time they provide students. But obviously for the 35 or so, they’re quite a bit away from the school. And they’ve got a pretty short time period here to get after it.
Governor Jay Inslee: (59:13)
Yeah. And we don’t want to minimize, people are going to need to move faster than maybe we normally do. But I would just point out, we’re not requiring districts to invent a new rocket ship. This is a known models that 14 other schools are doing. So we feel confident in our ability to do this. If everybody becomes solution oriented, and we work together to get this job done.
Speaker 1: (59:40)
All right, up next, we’ll go to Keith Eldridge with KOMO. Go ahead, Keith.
Keith Eldridge: (59:46)
Governor, [inaudible 00:59:48] what if teachers refuse to go back to the classroom? And [inaudible 00:59:56] giving teachers two to three days of teacher only vaccinations in the state to encourage them to go back.
Governor Jay Inslee: (01:00:03)
Well, let me just address the vaccination. Teachers are getting vaccinated in the droves. There is already a specific channel for getting teachers vaccinated. Through the Federal Pharmacy Program, they have almost an exclusive channel. Every teacher should be able to get their vaccination now. In addition to that, they’re also eligible to go to every other site. So they have an exclusive contract, if you will, through dozens of Federal Pharmacy Sites that are available to them.
Governor Jay Inslee: (01:00:32)
And they’re using that, it’s working well. But they’re also capable to use any other stream, any mass vaccination site, or any other pharmacy as well. So they’re getting vaccinated in a timely fashion. There’s no problem that is getting done. And we’re obviously happy for everyone that can get vaccinated. Look, an answer to your question, we believe this will succeed because this will help people to become solution-oriented. To have a consensus that we need to do this for the mental health of our children.
Governor Jay Inslee: (01:01:04)
And we believe it’ll succeed. And the reason we believe that is that our executive orders have been complied with, with huge percentages in every corner of the state. Because it has helped people to focus and become team-oriented, and we’re confident that’s going to happen. It has happened. I believe it will happen. And when it happens, our kids are going to be a lot healthier and better educated.
Speaker 3: (01:01:30)
Time for two more questions.
Speaker 1: (01:01:30)
All right. Time for two more. Up next, we’ll go to Chris Daniels with King 5. Go ahead, Chris.
Chris Daniels: (01:01:36)
Yeah. Hi Governor, I guess I want to continue on with some of the line of questioning concerning school districts and teachers unions. Who may say they have difficulty meeting your timeline. The Seattle School District specifically has continued to push back their timelines just for special pathways, pre-K, kindergarten, and first graders. So what happens if the district or the union says they cannot meet your deadline?
Governor Jay Inslee: (01:02:02)
They’re not going to say that because they can. We know they can because 1400 other schools have in the state of Washington. And we do not accept them to say that they’re not capable of achieving what other schools and districts have done. And by the way, the districts that have done this are rural and urban. They are North and South. They are poor, and medium, and rich.
Governor Jay Inslee: (01:02:29)
They are predominantly white and hugely diversified. I was at Stevens Elementary School where I think maybe 90% of the students were Hispanic; 60% were English, language learners. Schools are making it work in every condition imaginable across the state of Washington. So I don’t believe the Seattle District is going to tell us that somehow the children are so different in Seattle, that we could not make this work.
Governor Jay Inslee: (01:02:55)
Their children have a variety of challenges and families, but we have shown we can make this work in every place in the state of Washington. So this is a legal requirement and it is our expectation that they will find a way to work. Now, I’ve indicated they are going to have to pick up the pace. There’s no question about that. But it has been my experience, from nine years of being Governor, that when people become solution oriented, when they really want to find a solution, rather than a reason not to find a solution, that happens.
Governor Jay Inslee: (01:03:25)
It’s why we were being able to build a bridge over the I-5 river. When I-5 bridge fell in the river, we built a bridge faster than anybody else thought it could ever be done. And I think the same thing will happen in our schools and has. And the reason is, is because we have this template. Educators, you can dial up and call the principal at any of these five schools that I’ve been to. And they’ll tell you, lickety-split how to get this job done. And I believe that’s what’s going to happen.
Speaker 3: (01:03:54)
Speaker 1: (01:03:55)
All right. The last question will go to Melissa Santos with Crosscut. Go ahead, Melissa.
Melissa Santos: (01:04:00)
Hi there, Governor. So the Seattle Education Association, and Washington Education Association say they were not consulted about this announcement in advance. And I’m wondering, how do you know that there won’t be strikes or something over this, if it’s true that you haven’t been in close communication with them? Also, I’m wondering if Seattle, specifically one of the districts not receiving money from the last round of relief funding, Superintendent Raykdal.
Governor Jay Inslee: (01:04:29)
Chris, you want to talk about that funding?
Chris Reykdal: (01:04:31)
Yes. At this time, the Seattle School District is one of the districts who does not have approval to access their phase two, what we call [inaudible 01:04:39] dollars, Federal Relief dollars. I would remind everybody, we have one year to distribute those dollars and we will not distribute them to districts who do not have a viable plan to reopen their schools subject to this governor’s order this year. We’ll continue to have that conversation because we know they can get there.
Chris Reykdal: (01:04:55)
They will get there. We’ve demonstrated the safety protocols. This is unprecedented money to buy those ventilation systems or those portable air units, or to buy up more PPE. Or to at least on a temporary basis, bring in more staff. This is something every district can and should do. The money goes hand in hand with those agreements. But folks need to get after this and they need to now follow the data, which maybe they didn’t have over the last couple of weeks.
Chris Reykdal: (01:05:19)
The exclusion from learning that students are experiencing as a result of mental health risks, is real. The data is very, very real. It’s disproportionate by race and income. The grades are reflecting that. A quarter of our students are not getting credit for one or more classes in high school right now. Which puts their graduations in jeopardy, their financial aid in the future, their access to post-secondary.
Chris Reykdal: (01:05:41)
This is a moral responsibility, and it’s not because there are any devils. Have to reiterate this, it’s not because people don’t want to be successful in opening schools. It’s that there wasn’t always a high level of trust that we had the resources in place, or the data in place to compel it, or the solutions in place. I think we have all of those now, and I know folks will get after that.
Chris Reykdal: (01:06:01)
But yeah, Seattle is one of the districts who doesn’t have a green light yet. We want to continue to work with them. We have a series of calls that we’re scheduling for districts who are coming up short on that. But at this point, local education associations have to partner with their administrators. Make sure they have a plan for those resources to mitigate concerns they still have. And we’ve got to put a priority on opening schools within the health framework that’s in place, have success this spring. And then obviously a more ubiquitous open at scale next fall.
Governor Jay Inslee: (01:06:31)
Regard talking to teachers, I have to say that the teachers at Robert Frost Elementary in Pascoe, and Stevens in Puyallup, and Phantom Lake in Bellevue, [inaudible 01:06:41] in Puyallup and Oakridge, and Bugbee, they would be surprised if people say I have not been talking to teachers about this. This is where I’m getting the information that has given me the confidence to be able to move in this direction.
Governor Jay Inslee: (01:06:54)
The first call I made when we were able to announce this emergency proclamation was to the Washington Education Association president. With whom I’ve had many conversations that have been very, very productive talking through this. And I’ve appreciated his leadership on this. He represents a group of teachers that have diverse thought about what works in their personal journeys. And I have enjoyed that working relationship and will continue to do so. If I can, I want to tell you why Larry was the first person I called and how I feel about this.
Governor Jay Inslee: (01:07:29)
You can’t find a lot of people that have had more respect for the teaching profession than myself. And in part, because I was raised by an educator, my dad was a teacher, and coach, and counselor. And I meet, now adults, around the whole state that talk about my dad and what the difference he made in their lives.
Governor Jay Inslee: (01:07:54)
And they tell me stories about what he did for their lives. And how they all involve a personal interaction in a classroom that made a difference for their lives. I remember I met the 70 year old guy one time and asked my dad was the teacher. And he told a story about how my dad took him one time, turned him around in the hallway.
Governor Jay Inslee: (01:08:15)
He was ready to drop out of school, and he gently put him up against the lockers. And he said, “John, you got something on the ball. I want you to come in. I want you to stay in class.” And he said, “A light bulb went off,” and he decided not to drop out. He went and worked with my dad and went off, graduated from Sealth and did well in college. That’s the kind of experience that I am so committed for young people having teachers to have.
Governor Jay Inslee: (01:08:43)
And I’m personally familiar with a lot of teachers; my brother, my brother-in-law, my sister-in-law. I have tremendous respect for this profession and I know what they’re capable of doing. And they’ve shown us what they’re capable of doing. And all teachers have been working, both in remote and onsite already. And I want to reiterate my respect for all teachers of either modality that they’ve been using. You could make an argument that the teachers in remote are the ones that ought to get the Nobel Peace Prize.
Governor Jay Inslee: (01:09:14)
I mean, I’ve seen my second grader with a teacher trying to keep him on task at age eight. That is tough. And teachers have been doing that kind of work on a daily basis for the last year. I really recognize what that means. But now we know that we can up our game and provide more students this option.
Governor Jay Inslee: (01:09:34)
Again, this is an option. We want to give families options. Some families are going to want to stay in remote. So this is a situation that is win-win-win. I think it’s win for the students who want to go on site. It’s a win for those who want to stay remote. And over time, I think it’s a win for educators to experience that magical moment when they make a connection, looking in the children’s eyes of changing their lives. And that is a magic moment.
Speaker 3: (01:10:01)
Any final words Governor
Governor Jay Inslee: (01:10:04)
No, except to thank everyone on this journey. This has been quite a year for us. It has been a year of consistent work and consistent learning. And when we have applied our learning, really good things have happened. We know so much more than we knew a year ago about this pandemic, this virus. We know so much more about what we can do in a classroom. And now, we’re going to put that learning to use. We’ve got to make decisions about what we know now, not just what we know then. We’re respectful of everybody asking hard questions about how we’re going to do this. Those questions need to be asked. But I’m confident that we have the answers. And if we work together, this is going to be a great thing going forward for everybody concerned. I’m very confident of that. So thanks for everybody’s efforts.