Declare Schools an Essential Service

Why?

K-12 students in Washington State have a constitutional right to an effective education. For many of them, remote learning simply does not work.

Attending school in person is critical to the mental and physical health of children and teens and for their ability to receive a meaningful education, including for social emotional learning.

However, the state and the county have opened up almost every aspect of the society except for school.

Declaring schools as an essential service will enable everyone to correctly prioritize the reopening of the society and the economy. As a consequence, the State must declare schools as an essential service in state regulations and reaffirm our young’s constitutional right to education.

For the same reasons, the Bellevue School District must pursue such a designation with the State services.

Facts

K-12 students in Washington State have a constitutional right to an effective education

The state constitution has been interpreted by the Washington Supreme Court in the McCleary case [1] to provide a constitutional right to an education for each child in Washington. The court called it the "paramount duty" of the State. The court explicitly stated that, unlike other constitutional rights--our freedom of worship, and speech, etc.--the right to an education is a positive right. It doesn't require the government to leave you alone; it requires the government to give each child an education. Moreover, according to the Court, it empowers the judiciary to audit the other branches of government to insure that the obligation is being fulfilled.

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[1] https://www.courts.wa.gov/appellate_trial_courts/SupremeCourt/?fa=supremecourt.McCleary_Education

Remote learning is not an adequate option for many students

Many families have noticed that their children and teens have issues retaining knowledge and skills supposed acquired during a remote learning session. Worse, they often find that the children are unable to engage and focus on homework after their remote school day. These anecdotal experiences are confirmed by studies. "Preliminary research suggests students nationwide will return to school in the fall with roughly 70% of learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year, and less than 50% in math, according to projections by NWEA, an Oregon-based nonprofit that provides research to help educators tailor instruction." [2]

Furthermore around 20% of students in Washington State don't have the technology they need to connect remotely [2]

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[2] https://www.wsj.com/articles/schools-coronavirus-remote-learning-lockdown-tech-11591375078

Attending school in person is critical to the health of children and teens

The academic, physical and mental upsides associated with returning children to schools outweigh the risks, the American Academy of Pediatrics concludes. [3]

Children are more likely to be harmed by not returning to school next month than if they catch coronavirus, the UK's chief medical adviser says. [4]

New England Journal of Medicine stated “But educators and other school personnel cannot necessarily dictate the place or terms of their employment, even (perhaps especially) when the social compact has broken down. It is tragic that the United States has chosen a path necessitating a trade-off between risks to educators and harms to students, given other countries’ success in reducing transmission and opening schools with routine control measures in place. This dilemma represents a social and policy failure, not a medical or scientific necessity.” [5]

Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates told CNBC it’s important for young students to return to school for in-person learning, despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. “I’m a big believer that for young children, the benefits in almost every location — particularly if you can protect the teachers well — the benefits outweigh the costs,” Gates said. [6]

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[3] https://services.aap.org/en/pages/2019-novel-coronavirus-covid-19-infections/clinical-guidance/covid-19-planning-considerations-return-to-in-person-education-in-schools/[4] https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-53875410[5] https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMms2024920[6] https://www.cnbc.com/2020/07/28/bill-gates-on-back-to-school-during-coronavirus-pandemic.html

More screen time is associated with health issues

For many years the scientific community has warned about the health impact of excessive screen time.

"After 1 h/day of use, more hours of daily screen time were associated with lower psychological well-being, including less curiosity, lower self-control, more distractibility, more difficulty making friends, less emotional stability, being more difficult to care for, and inability to finish tasks." [7]

The American Heart Association has recommended parents to "limit screen time for kids to a maximum of just two hours per day". [8]

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[7] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211335518301827?via%3Dihub[8] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/parents-need-to-drastically-cut-kids-screen-time-devices-american-heart-association/

Social isolation caused by school closure has already led to significant psychological stress among our young which may result in serious long-term mental health problems

COVID-19 is causing a national mental health crisis [9]. Mental well-being of families with children has been hit especially hard by this pandemic [10][11]. The longer we keep the children out of school the more difficult it will be for them to re-integrate into the school learning environment.

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[9] https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use[10] https://www.kingcounty.gov/depts/health/covid-19/data/daily-summary.aspx[11] https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/08/31/peds.2020-007294

Other services important for the health of their users are typically recognized essential

Other groups had their health needs recognized when declaring essential business. “Recognizing that patients need access to this medicine, as well as acknowledging the importance that consumers continue to be able to access legal cannabis made safer by our regulated marketplace, the governor deemed the cannabis industry essential,” Elliott said in a statement. [12]

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[12] https://www.marketwatch.com/story/pot-shops-are-considered-essential-businesses-in-most-states-where-its-legal-but-the-rules-are-shifting-2020-04-08

The State has allowed non-essential services to reopen, such as restaurants and bars, whereas they increase the risk of transmission of COVID-19

The governor has reopened parts of the economy and society which are not essential, such as bars and restaurants, and are at a high risk of facilitating the transmission of COVID-19. [13] If schools were deemed an essential service, other services not considered essential would not have opened before making sure schools were safe to open.

Harvard Global Health Institute states: “We need a surge for education, just as we surged for health care. We redesigned hospital spaces and learned how to protect patients and essential workers. We invested in this. We’ve even done it for restaurants. We can do it for our schools. [...] To prevent a resurgence of cases, these districts must close bars and indoor dining too and really consider how much non-essential retail they are willing to tolerate.” [14]

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[13] https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/10/health/restaurant-dining-covid-19-cdc-study-wellness/index.html [14] https://globalhealth.harvard.edu/path-to-zero-schools-achieving-pandemic-resilient-teaching-and-learning-spaces/