Starting Jan. 19, TPS will begin bringing more students back to school for in-person learning in phases
Student wearing mask

As we head into Winter Break, I am pleased to inform you that Tacoma Public Schools will begin bringing students back to school for in-person instruction in phases, starting with kindergarten students, beginning Tuesday, Jan. 19, following new guidance issued Dec. 16 by Gov. Jay Inslee, the state Department of Health and the state Superintendent of Public Instruction.

We are ready for this! Over the last several months, we have prepared by establishing consistent safety protocols and accumulating the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE).

Since October, we’ve followed health and safety protocols to provide in-person learning for identified students at all grade levels who require special education services. We know when our students, staff and families follow safety protocols, we can limit transmission of COVID-19 in schools.

Students, staff and families have worked so hard these last several months, we really encourage you to take time to relax and enjoy the holiday season. When school resumes in January we will have more time to review all the details.

To help you prepare, here is our timeline:

  • Beginning Tuesday, Jan. 19, kindergarten students will start coming to school for in-person instruction two days per week—Monday-Tuesday or Thursday-Friday—in groups of up to 15 students. Kindergarten students, who have not yet had any in-school experience, will have the school mostly to themselves this first week, which will help them get comfortable with their school.

On school days when students do not attend school in person, they will have assignments from their teacher to work on independently from home.

​​​​​​​In addition, students who receive special education services at all grade levels—and who have been attending school in person in groups of five or fewer—will continue to attend school in groups of up to 15 students.

The district has started exploring ways to bring back middle school and high school students living homeless and others farthest from educational justice in small groups of up to 15 students, as recommended by the new state guidance.

NOTE: The state’s new guidance limits student groups to a maximum of 15 students per classroom if the COVID-19 case count in the community exceeds 350 cases per 100,000 residents. In Pierce County, as of Dec. 17, the case count per 100,000 stands at 521, according to the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

  • Beginning Monday, Jan. 25, preschool students will attend school two days per week in groups of up to 15 students.
  • Beginning Feb. 1, kindergarten students would shift to four school days per week—but only if the COVID-19 case count in Pierce County drops below 350 cases per 100,000 residents for 14 days. Otherwise, they will continue to come to school two days per week.
  • Beginning Monday, Feb. 8, first and second graders would return to school two days per week—Monday-Tuesday or Thursday-Friday—in groups of up to 15 students. Kindergarten and preschool will continue as described above.

In early 2021, we expect to announce plans to bring back first and second graders four days a week, expand preschool programming and phase in grades 3-5. To begin bringing back middle school and high school students, the Pierce County COVID-19 case count needs to drop below 350 cases per 100,000 residents, according to the new state guidance.

Between now and when we start in-person learning, we will have more support plans to announce. We will provide another update the first week in January. We also will continue to collaborate with the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department on changing case counts, safety measures, contact tracing, testing opportunities, vaccine availability and other topics.

Some important steps parents must take for their students to return to school in person:

  • Sign up now for our Family App, because each day your child comes to school, you will need to fill out a short online form stating your child is healthy and hasn’t been exposed to COVID-19.
  • Make sure your child has all the required non-COVID-19 vaccinations and that you have provided the vaccination records to your child’s school nurse.
  • If your child has any medical care plans, medications or physician’s orders, you must provide those to your child’s school nurse before the first day of in-person learning.

We're really good at educating students. We are not health experts. From the beginning of the pandemic, we committed to following the guidance of health experts to ensure the health and safety of our staff and students.

Our projected plans for in-person learning depend on meeting appropriate health and safety guidance. We wanted to give ample notification. If our plan changes, it will not be because we are not ready with proper protocols and safe facilities. It will be because the numbers and health expert guidance dictate.

We will continue to provide updates and answer your questions after Winter Break. Have a safe and joyous holiday season!


Happy holidays,​​​​​​​

​​​​​​​Carla J. Santorno, Superintendent

TPS Media Contact

Kathryn McCarthy, Strategic Communications and Marketing Manager | 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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