New COVID guidance is out for schools: Here’s how school districts figure out which recommended rules to follow

LIBERTY LAKE, Wash. – In less than two days, masks will no longer be required in indoor places. Schools can also do away with face coverings, too.

Not only are masks optional, but schools can also loosen some COVID guidelines. The Washington Department of Health (DOH) sent school districts new guidance on what they are required and recommended to do starting Monday.

Change is a constant in the pandemic, and Selkirk Middle School Principal Ty Larsen knows it all too well now.

He met with other COVID supervisors and Brian Asmus, the director of safety and security at the Central Valley School District, to look through new guidance DOH just gave them a few days ago.

“It’s challenging. Very, very challenging. The biggest difficulty is making sure we’re doing it to keep kids safe in every different scenario that comes at us,” Larsen said of trying to run a school while also dealing with the pandemic.

Starting Monday, things could look different in schools.

What’s still required:

  • Anyone who tests positive for COVID must quarantine and isolate
  • Students with symptoms or who test positive waiting to go home will be put in an isolation room at the school and will be required to wear masks
  • Schools must also have access to testing

What’s no longer required:

  • Masks in class or on school buses
  • Social distancing
  • Contact tracing
  • COVID exposure notifications for each case that happens in schools

RELATED: What’s changing for schools when Washington’s mask mandate lifts?

While schools don’t have to tell families about each case, they are required to notify staff or students identified as high-risk if they are exposed.

Schools still have to report outbreaks and clumps of cases in schools to families, but they can do so by weekly newsletters or COVID dashboard, for example.

It’s important to note that there is a required and recommended section schools have to look at.

While schools don’t have to social distance anymore, the Central Valley School District is choosing to do so for the foreseeable future. Asmus says CVSD will continue some of the recommended layered mitigation measures since he believes it’s been successful to mitigate outbreaks.

“We’re going to continue with our three feet with distancing and then reevaluate after a few weeks to see if that is impactful or not or we may loosen that to more of a practical instead of a strict three feet distancing,” Asmus said.

Every school district could be different. The Mead School District says it won’t require social distancing but students who want to should let their teachers know.

“I think each school district and those optional standards, they can do what works best for them in those individual buildings,” Asmus said.

As guidelines change and masks come off, there are concerns that more cases could pop up again. Asmus said at this point, it’s just a wait and see. He says they’ll follow whatever health officials do, and now, health leaders are choosing to loosen restrictions.

“The guidance does say if individual schools or school districts are seeing an increase, then we can take additional measures if we have to in order to keep outbreaks in schools from happening,” he said.

As principals like Larsen and other school leaders move forward onto the next chapter, Larsen says they want to make sure students and staff who still do want to wear masks will feel safe to do so. He said there is still some hesitancy from some students and staff about taking masks off.

“The biggest thing right now is making sure that both parties feel safe here at school, that they’re not going to be harassed or intimidated by anyone who is or isn’t wearing a mask,” he said.

To see what else the Department of Health is recommending and requiring for schools, click here.

RELATED: Washington to lift mask mandate earlier than previously announced