Remote Learning for start of school year
First day of school 2020

New health guidance due to increasing COVID-19 cases leads to change in 2020-2021 school year plans

The safety of our staff and students is paramount when making decisions about how to educate our students this fall.

We prefer in-person instruction—because we know it’s the best way for students to learn—but only if it can be done safely.

From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have followed and continue to follow the guidance of the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department on issues of health and safety.

On Thursday, superintendents from Pierce County school districts consulted with Dr. Anthony Chen, director of Health for the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

Dr. Chen told superintendents that due to the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases, he could not recommend school districts open schools for in-person instruction in September.

In a follow-up letter sent by Dr. Chen to superintendents, he wrote: “Based on the COVID‐19 disease activity in Pierce County and our region, I do not feel it is safe to open schools in September for traditional classroom learning.

“The situation could change, and I may change my recommendation at a later date,” Dr. Chen said. “I am offering this recommendation to respect our local school districts’ needs to plan and implement their education models. Schools should still plan for onsite and hybrid options that districts could implement later in the academic year if the situation improves.”

Letter to Pierce County School Superintendents

As a result of this new guidance, the plans for Tacoma Public Schools have changed.

We will immediately shift gears and begin preparing for remote learning when school begins Sept. 9, Superintendent Carla Santorno told the School Board Members during a virtual public meeting Thursday night, July 23. She will present the remote learning plan to the school board at its next meeting.

Our administrative and staff teams have worked for months on plans to start school with two other options:

  • A K-12 online school with a learning platform featuring personalized learning plans that provide core content and elective courses aligned to each student’s progress and that students can access anytime, from anywhere, and can work at their own pace with live support available from Tacoma teachers.
  •  A hybrid model—some in-school and some extended remote learning—with specific safety precautions such as masks, social distancing and health screenings.

TPS still plans to offer the online school option in addition to remote learning, which follows Tacoma’s curriculum with instruction delivered solely by Tacoma teachers.

“The good news about working so hard to prepare an effective hybrid model is that even though we’ll start with a remote learning model, eventually, as fewer COVID-19 cases allow, our hybrid model will be an interim step toward the full reopening of schools in the future,” Superintendent Santorno said.

Our early July survey showed overwhelming support of the hybrid model among families at all levels:

  • Elementary (83% hybrid; 17% online)
  • Middle school (86% hybrid; 14% online)
  • High school (80% hybrid; 12% online; 8% non-traditional)

“As we pivot now and focus on preparing for remote learning, we’ll use what we learned from our experience last spring. We still have a lot of work to do on a lot of fronts to ensure we can meet the needs of all our students, but we will get there,” Santorno said.  

Letter to Pierce County School Superintendents

Media Contact

Dan Voelpel, Executive Director of Communications | 253-571-1015 |

About Tacoma Schools

Tacoma Public Schools is the only district designated an Innovation Zone by Washington State. A leader in implementing innovative schools and programs to meet the diverse needs of every student, every day, TPS serves approximately 30,000 students from preschool to grade 12 and at nearly 5000 employees is one of the largest employers in Tacoma. Learn more...


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