Pierce County elementary schools could open soon for in-person learning

Elementary schools could open for in-person learning this month in Pierce County.

That’s the word from the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, citing a rapid drop in cases of COVID-19.

The health department there had been the only one in the state to require all schools reopen with only remote learning. 

“We believe that the numbers are going to support the opening of elementary schools in September in Pierce County,” said Nancy Sutton, deputy health director at Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. 

Thursday afternoon, the health department conducted a meeting with school leaders from the county. Q13 asked to attend that zoom meeting, but we were told it was private.

Sutton says the change in approach has to do with rapid impovement with the daily rate of cases in Pierce County. 

Governor Jay Inslee put out recommendations for school districts, classifying counties as low, moderate, and high risk – depending on the percentage of COVID-19 cases while factoring in population.

Pierce County has been considered high-risk. But cases are dropping, and as of today, it moved into the moderate catagory at 73.5 cases per 100,000 people over the last 14 days. 

The health department has been the target of protests, even lawsuits, after it became the only county health department in the state to require all schools, public and private, begin the school year with only remote learning.

Many Pierce County parents, like Doug and Trina Wankowski want their kids back in a classroom.

“We need the help. We need the help of the district. We need the help of others and right now we’re just not getting it at home,” said Doug Wankowski.

The family from Gig Harbor has two kids in middle school, one in elementary, and one in pre-school in the Peninsula School District. 

Both parents work. Dad at a local brewery. Mom in health care.

"They need interactions with other students," said Doug about his push to for his kids to have in-person learning. "They need the love and support of their teachers.”

His wife says for their kids, it's a necessity. 

“We have some kiddos with some learning disabilities and it’s pretty tricky for us to make sure they are learning at the level they are supposed to be learning,” said Trina. 

Sutton said these decisions have been based on science, the rate of cases, and following the governor's recommendations.

“The restriction was while disease transmission rates were high, it was not safe to re-open schools," Sutton said. "Once we get into that moderate range, it is up to school leadership to decide.” 

It shifts the difficult decisions about how and when to welcome elementary school students back into building from the health department to the school districts.

We reached out to the biggest school districts in the county.

The Bethel School District got back to us, saying the goal is to get all kids back in school. Adding, once given the green light, it will take a least a day before welcoming back elementary school students.

Tacoma Public Schools says it will take at least three weeks. 

Still, for parents in Pierce county, it could be a possible big first step in getting our kids back in the classroom.