Senate Republican leaders: Inslee’s school-choice approach to reopening K-12 instruction solid step toward improving youth mental health

OLYMPIA… Leaders in the Senate Republican Caucus released the following remarks in response to Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement today that all K-12 public schools in Washington will be required by executive order to provide safe in-person and remote learning options for students by mid-April.

Senate Republican Leader John Braun, R-Centralia:

“There is no doubt that many thousands of children across the state have not adapted well to remote learning during the pandemic. Some are doing just fine – thriving even. But many are suffering. Republicans have highlighted this disparity for some time. Last month, I sent a letter to the governor asking him to accelerate the process of reopening all of Washington’s schools. And in recent weeks I have been pleased to see him come to support returning to the classroom despite pushback from the teachers’ union.

“Governor Inslee’s announcement today requiring choice in how schools provide instruction is the best course of action right now. I hope being given the option to do what’s best for their children will improve morale among our K-12 families. This is a solid step toward getting our kids back on track – academically and mentally. The alarming toll this pandemic has taken on youth is our newest mental-health crisis. It’s unfortunate that some are only waking up to that reality now. But others are still ignoring the youth suicide rates and other indicators of how negatively our children are being affected.

“The science has shown for a while that classroom instruction can be done safely. Wearing masks, washing hands, socially distancing at 3 feet all help make the schools a safe learning environment. The data shows this is effective in other states. The teachers’ union’s opposition to reopening our schools here in Washington is a terrible disservice to children with special needs, children from lower-income families, children of color and children in rural areas where connectivity is a problem. This is the equity issue of our time. But we can begin to change that, now that school districts will be required to provide an in-person option, and not at the expense of those whose parents want to continue remote learning.”

Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, prime sponsor of SB 5464:

“Even before the COVID-19 numbers began a nosedive and vaccinations started rolling out, there was ample empirical evidence that children can be back in classrooms and remain safe. Republicans recognized open classrooms should be the state’s default position, and that keeping kids out of classrooms was becoming a public-health crisis all its own. The point of SB 5464 was to require in-person instruction unless a particular authority said otherwise. Being in the minority in the Legislature, we couldn’t pass that bill ourselves, but we could and did offer it up as a better idea.

“The governor’s move, to prohibit schools from failing to offer an in-person instruction option, lines up with the Republican approach. If our bill showed a way forward, I’m happy. But the real winners here are the children of Washington and their families.”

Senate Republican Caucus Chair Ann Rivers, R-La Center:

“Tomorrow will mark one year since the governor ordered the statewide school closure. We may never know the full extent of the loss caused by keeping so many kids out of classrooms for so long – but I’m glad the governor has taken firm action toward ending any additional loss caused by the remote-only approach.

“As a former teacher I am confident that all of our schools can figure out how to comply with this new direction and help our K-12 system move a giant step back toward ‘normal.’ Our children have waited too long already.”