Highlights of the SVSD School Board Meeting April 22, 2021

[Guest post by Linda Grez]

Superintendent Dr. Rob Manahan welcomed incoming Superintendent Dr. Gibbon (whose term begins July 1st), recognized Earth Day and Administrative Staff week, particularly thanking Christi Wright for her support at the District.

Public Comment included 10 live speakers and 15 written comments submitted.

Most speakers expressed their strong desire to return the school to full-time in-person classes, stating that hybrid schools had demonstrated the positive effects of in-person learning, especially compared to remote classes, which are not as engaging or effective learning.  They cited the Governor’s reduction of social distancing from 6 to 3 feet and his order that schools open for in-person learning, as well as negative mental health and social impacts on their children.   Dr. Manahan addressed many of the items raised in his presentation later.

The Consent Agenda was passed, which included a Personnel Action Report, Accounts Payable Voucher Registers, Enrollment Report (showing full-time equivalent enrollment still down at 6573 vs. 7045 planned), Disposition of School Bus to the Fire Department for training, MSHS Coaching Stipends, an additional Change Order on the MSHS Replacement Project – Change Order #24 for  $310,469.01 bringing the project total to $165,474,178.86, Asset Preservation Program Report 2020-21 showing the Building Condition Rating Summary for Timber Ridge Elementary, and the Budget Status Report for February & March showing projected loss of $5 million from State enrollment funds and $1.8 million from state transportation funds.

Return to School Update and Fall Planning

Dr. Manahan listed these considerations being weighed in deciding how and whether to open up for more in-person learning (defined as full days, 4 days/week).  All students are back in school in a part-time Hybrid Learning Model since March 29 (14 school days). 40 school days remain in the school year. The 3 Ft Rule is now in place but lunches, common spaces and ‘adult to student’ still require 6 Ft distancing.  Scheduling lunches would need additional sessions to accommodate distancing, lengthening that class period to 2 hours and shortening other classes. The majority of staff are vaccinated and students aged 16+ are now eligible. There is a higher number of failing grades at secondary than usual in some courses and among some subgroups and an increase in initial IEP evaluations. Student social-emotional health remains a concern. Scheduling changes and some teacher shifting will need to occur again to go full time. Transportation routes and times will need to be changed and consolidated. Current case trends are rising in City, Zip, HRA, County and schools.

Changing now would require union contract bargaining again.  Mandated safety and health procedures will become more complex and potentially strain the system with double the students. Maintaining consistency of schedules and teachers is important. Potential increase of schedule/class disruptions due to the 3ft rule and exposure is still defined at 6 ft.  The CDC indicates greater student transmission and infection rate has occurred. Already there have been 2 elementary SVSD classroom quarantines.  Time and energy are needed to fully focus on Fall 2021, including furniture planning to meet the 3 ft rule (shared desks place students too close). Current Secondary (mostly middle school) class sizes will not accommodate all students within the 3 ft rule, so will require changed staffing and room planning. Safety and efficiency during pick up/drop off times is a concern due to an increased number of parent drop-offs in mornings and afternoons.

The Governor will next report May 3rd on County phasing status.

A risk/reward analysis summary followed.

RISK: • Disruption of schedules • Reduction of course offerings • Increased quarantine incidents • Possible new teacher • Limited transportation • Instructional time net gain • Unable to meet social distance requirements in grades 6–8 and some 9-12. 

REWARDS: • Consistent mental health support • Consistent academic support • Reduced isolation

District’s Recommendation: • Focus on planning for Fall 2021 • Work towards bringing in students most vulnerable for academic and social-emotional loss over the next 8 weeks • Work towards the possibility of phasing in grade levels if possible over the next 8 weeks.

After this presentation, a long discussion began, probing the logistical challenges and suggesting that the student rewards outweighed the risks and work required to overcome the logistical tasks and barriers.

It was suggested that high school seniors might especially benefit from ending their high school years in person.

Dr. Manahan stated that much work had been done to address the requirements of returning to 4 days in person, including measurements chair to chair, proposing schedule changes for K-5, exploring additional in-person time for kids who need more help the last 8 weeks. 

School Board President Melissa Johnson, Director Carolyn Simpson and other board members stated that we could all agree kids do better in person and challenged how to measure all the risks of the current school schedules, including student mental health, failing grades, social, emotional issues and academic progress and mitigate them. 

Dr. Manahan agreed that the rewards outweighed the risks but required changes to meet required safety guidance from the State. The logistical problems also must be solved, including ordering furniture, etc., for the Fall.  Surveying parents on what changes would be required might be an option.

Director Carolyn Simpson and President Melissa Johnson recommended overcoming the obstacles to ensure student learning is the priority over adult-focused challenges/considerations and asked to set a target for full-time return in some weeks.  Even having 3 weeks full time would have student benefits. 

Director Geoff Doy agreed that we all want in-person learning but noted that schools are unlike businesses such as bowling alleys – schools are subject to different Department of Health and Governor’s legal restrictions.  Hard questions must be addressed – how to plan for the 6 ft lunch distance, can Kindergarteners and First graders be expected to wear masks for a whole day, bus transportation challenges.   Negotiating with the unions will take time, as well as all the tasks above.

Director Ram Dutt noted that both sides are correct – kids need to go back, and there are restraints we have to follow.  The District needs to communicate more what they are working on. 

Dr. Manahan gave his “firm commitment that we will work on these restraints.”  They will work on all the logistical issues to get students back as soon as possible.  The frequent and unexpected changes from the State have made it hard to plan.  The February rule changed from 6 ft to 3 ft. distancing just as they had planned hybrid school for all using 6 ft. rules.

The Student representatives echoed the desire to have as much in-person class as possible and noted that remote self-study is harder for students academically and socially.  Seniors only have 7 weeks left, and some will never be in school again if they don’t attend college – it would be great to phase them in first.

Board requested urgent Administration action and weekly status reports

Several directors requested prompt action for seniors and struggling students and weekly reports on overcoming all the obstacles.

Dr. Manahan agreed to give a report tomorrow including what can be started next week.

Director Fancher asked if any similar size districts are coming back in-person full time.  Dr. Manahan said Issaquah District looks at a mid-May full-time return (modified schedule – not a full day/5 days a week). 

Fall 2021 Planning: 5 days a week, in person with distancing

Dr. Manahan stated that plans for Fall are due on June 1.  The District intends to be back 5 days a week in person, with a 3 ft rule, masks, distancing and cleaning.  They hope to relax the requirements as the year progresses.  Staffing changes may be required for distancing.  The District should survey families about what has been learned from this year and what may be kept going forward – some students may want to stay remote next year. 

Preparation Needed: • Verify measurements all classrooms • Ensure staffing allows for mandated social distancing • Furniture arrangement and purchase • Schedule development and course offerings • Student and Family Surveys • Academic Needs • SEL Needs • What to carry over from 2020-21 • Remote vs. In-person preference

Timeline: • MARCH – APRIL • Analysis of Systems, Fixtures, Furniture and Equipment Needs • Continue Strategic Planning Process • Survey Constituents • Students • Staff • Families • MAY-JUNE • Additional Surveys as needed • Learning Model Preferences, transportation needs • Finalize Models/options • Bargain Working Conditions • Community Updates • OSPI Requirements for All Districts to submit plans for fall schooling by June 1, 2021 • JULY-AUGUST • Finalizing schedules, training staff, final preparation • AUGUST 31 = First Day of School, grade 1-12

Early release day (Friday or Wednesday) is not yet decided. 

Student Reps Report

Student Reps reported that Middle School students are very excited and glad to be back, but it is hard for teachers to do both remote and in-person simultaneously and respond to 2 groups of students.

Middle School Student Voice from TFMS- “I love being back in school. It’s better than I expected. I feel safe with the covid protocols; however, the band seems a bit ridiculous. We have to be outside, wear a special mask and have covers on the bells of our instruments, and then we go to lunch and eat next to each other with no masks.” 

High school students echoed middle school students’ comments stating a preference for in-person school for maximum engagement and support.  The homecoming parade is set for 4/30.  There will be Spirit week activities that week.  See MSHS website for details.

Policy Changes

The board briefly discussed 4 proposed policies which were moved to the next stage towards approval although 3 are expected to require deep discussions and modifications before their final forms are approved.  They include Policy 2410 – High School Graduation Requirements, Policy 2420 – Grading and Progress Reports, Policy 2421 – Promotions/Retentions and Policy 3225 – School Based Threat Assessment.

Future School Board Meetings in-person at Mount Si High School

Up to 30 attendees can request to attend the next live board meeting on May 6th at 5:00 pm.  They will use swivels and require health practices such as masks and social distancing.  They are still working on protocols to sign up and get comments.  Look for more info via District Email news.

The School Board is seeking the next Student Rep to take the seat of graduating senior Emma Cullen.  Applications will be available soon.

Comments

  1. > Changing now would require union contract bargaining again. <
    Bingo, there you have it. All the other words are secondary. The issue is 99% union. WSJ goes through the process of Florida opening their schools, and includes good data on the other states that have done this successfully. And that was before we hit vaccine critical mass!

    Our kids are suffering and missing some very formative years in terms of social development. The teachers should have all been vaccinated. The kids can get vaccinated if they wish. The vaccine is unbelievably effective. Even before the vaccine, the chances of being hospitalized by covid was extremely rare for those under 20–the family car is much more dangerous to your health. But after being vaccinated, the chances of being hospitalized or having a severe case of covid moves to an vanishingly small number for just about every age group. The data out of Israel on vaccine efficacy is simply fantastic.

    Get back into the classroom. The science is clear. The kids need it.

    https://www.wsj.com/articles/florida-schools-reopened-without-becoming-covid-19-superspreaders-11615973402

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