Parents to Pierce County Health Director: 'Let our kids go to school!'

Parents and students are getting ready for the opening bell to a school year that's starting with mostly remote-learning and lots of uncertainty.

According to the state, Pierce County is the only county where the local health official has put out a requirement saying schools must start with remote learning.

Some parents are pushing back. 

Frustrated families, some with kids holding signs reading “Let us go to school” took their message to the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

“I’d just really like to see our schools open this fall and our kids get back into learning the way we know they learn best, which is in-person with a teacher,” said Diana Agustsson, a mother with two kids in private school. 

It's not just private school parents who are upset.  

“It’s going to be tough. I’ve had to quit my job,” said Marcie Turnbull, a mother of four. 

Turnbull has a college student, an incoming eleventh grader, third grader, and kindergartner in the Peninsula School District. 

“I’m frustrated that my daughter is not going to get the chance to see what kindergarten is like and I just wish we could take a broader snapshot of what this is doing to the kids,” Turnbull said.   

Much of their frustration is focused at the County Health Director Dr. Anthony Chen. 

“If we want to re-open schools for education, we’ve got to control this virus,” Chen responded.  

Dr. Chen says he handed down the requirement to start the school year with remote learning with public safety in mind. He also says the distance learning requirement was prompted because private schools, considering re-opening their buildings to students, asked him for clarification.

Dr. Chen said, "When there's widespread community transmission, it's not safe to have children in school."

Governor Jay Inslee calls released guidelines to school districts, calling counties averaging more than 75 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents "high risk," adding schools in those counties should "strongly consider distance learning."

This afternoon, Tacoma dropped from 103 to 97 cases per 100,000 residents, still well within the governor's high-risk category.

During a town hall with parents, hosted by Q13 News, the state’s top educator, Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal acknowledged the frustration being felt by Pierce County Parents, due to the decision by the health director.  

“I respect the legal authority he has," Reykdal said. "But I think it’s complicated given the state built a statewide framework of local decision making, and so, very challenging in Pierce County right now.”

Agustsson says her kids Tacoma-based private schools were ready to act on plans to keep kids socially distanced in the classroom.

"“I think students learn best in an in-person environment. Online doesn’t allow them the connections they need with their fellow students as well as their teachers,” Agustsson said. 

With that said, almost every single public school district in Western Washington is planning on starting the year with only remote learning with some exceptions for special education.

As working parents scramble to make plans to juggle their jobs and care for their kids.