Schools to follow updated COVID guidelines

Measures to mitigate and respond to COVID-19 will remain similar to last school year.

As Whidbey Island public schools gear up for a new academic year, measures to mitigate and respond to COVID-19 will remain similar to last school year while free meal benefits will expire, school officials said.

The Washington State Department of Health updated its guidelines for schools and day care centers Aug. 5. Representatives from all three Whidbey school districts confirmed that the districts will be adhering to the department’s requirements.

Under the updated guidelines, students and staff who test positive for COVID-19 will be required to isolate for five days, as per current CDC guidance. The department guidelines state that individuals returning after five days’ isolation should wear a mask for an additional five days, or continue to isolate if they cannot wear a mask for any reason.

The guidelines also state that schools are required to have a process in place to inform students and their families when there are cases and outbreaks in the school, though schools are no longer required to directly notify high-risk individuals of exposure. Schools are still required to report outbreaks to local health jurisdictions and have a system in place to respond.

“We are entering a new stage of coexisting with COVID-19 in our communities, knowing that COVID-19 is here to stay for the foreseeable future,” Secretary of Health Umair A. Shah said. “DOH also recognizes the importance of being able to maintain in-person learning for children, and the fundamental links between education and long-term health outcomes.”

The federal Department of Agriculture waiver that covered school breakfasts and lunches for all students expired in June, meaning families will be required to pay for school meals again this school year. Qualified families may still receive free or reduced price meals from their respective school districts.

The new year will herald other changes within Whidbey districts. In Oak Harbor schools, upgrades to schools will enhance student and staff safety, according to communications officer Sarah Foy.

The Coupeville School District will move away from half days on Fridays and instead implement early release days on Wednesdays to provide more opportunities for professional development for staff and maintain a more consistent schedule for families, Superintendent Steve King said. The district is also in the process of finalizing its new strategic plan, King said.

“Other than that we are trying to make this a very predictable school year for our entire school community,” he said.

In South Whidbey schools, Communications Director Kristina Macarro said the district has a revamped website and has implemented ParentSquare, a new communication system for families.

Oak Harbor and Coupeville schools begin Sept. 6, and South Whidbey schools start Aug. 31.