Snoqualmie Valley School Board approves plan to reopen Elementary Schools for Hybrid/In-person instruction in January

[Guest article by Linda Grez]

The Snoqualmie Valley School District held a Special Meeting on Tuesday, 12/29/20. The sole agenda item was the Reopening of Elementary schools for Hybrid (in-person and remote combined) instruction for grades K-5.  Families who have chosen to continue the Remote Learning program will stay on that path.

As usual, recently, there was abundant public comment submitted in advance, mostly advocating for the reopening of schools, including middle and high schools. Public comments were summarized for brevity, but full comment text will be attached to the Meeting Minutes.

Snoqualmie Valley Schools District Office.

Comments mostly asked why the District was not quickly bringing students back under new state guidelines. School Board President Carolyn Simpson named the multiple stakeholders in school reopening decision-making: parents, State and County health departments, the State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, State Department of Labor & Industry, the Governor, employee groups, and unions, District nurses and other health staff.

Local data guides reopening

According to Superintendent Manahan, the District has to work with guidelines and data from within our region and our Educational District, replying to parent observations that other districts such as Spokane area Mead District have already opened for in-person instruction. He said most of the 39 districts in our ED are similarly timing their school returns for mid-January, but he has been working with superintendents from all over the state to share learnings and strategies. He acknowledged that there was no path forward that would make everyone completely happy.

Approved Elementary Reopening (Hybrid) Plan

The proposal (which was approved by the School Board at the meeting’s conclusion) set these Target return dates, pending a final review of local COVID-19 case numbers early next week:

  • Kindergarten to begin no sooner than 1/19.
  • 1st grade to begin no sooner than 5 school days after K starts, or 1/29
  • 2nd to 5th grades begin no sooner than 2/8.  (Grades 3-4-5 may be staged if necessary).
Opstad Elementary

New State Guidance

The new reopening plans reflect the change in state requirements. Using new research and national data, state officials changed their ‘decision-tree’ approach in favor of a ‘Guidance’ Toolkit to assess readiness using local COVID incidence rates with 2 key checklists that implement all required DOH Health and Safety Measures and Department of Labor & Industry requirements, in addition to a few standards, such as maximum groupings of 15 students per classroom when COVID is prevalent, and which students to prioritize for return.

When there is a high level of incidence – 350 cases per 100k population/14 days and test positivity rate over 10% – the State recommends Phasing in grades K-3 and higher-needs students and then adding grades 4-5.

At a Moderate level (50 to 350 cases per 100k population/14 days and positive rate 5-10%) – the State recommends adding any elementary students not already in-person and middle school students. Over time, add in high school after middle school and when rates drop below 200 cases per 100,000 over 14 days.

Under a Low level, <50 cases per 100k and a positivity rate < 5% – In-person learning should be allowed for all students.

Elementary Students grouped into AM/PM Cohorts

Assistant Superintendent Dan Schlodtfelt presented the Elementary AM/PM Cohort schedules, which separate elementary students who wish to return in-person into AM/PM groups. This allows for 4 weekdays with half-days of in-person school and half-days of remote instruction, with no lunch served or eaten at school. He thanked teachers, principals, administrators, and other key department staff, such as transportation for the complex planning required to make this best possible plan. It should allow for blocks of learning time with small group sizes and more focused teacher attention.

On each day except Wednesday, Cohort A will arrive at school at 8:30 and leave at 11:25. They return home for remote classwork. Cohort B works remotely in the morning and arrives at school at 1:05 pm, finishing at 4:00 pm.  Schools will be cleaned at midday. 

Wednesday will be a remote day for all students, with some Zoom instruction and homework (‘asynchronous’ work).  Specialized programs, IEP conferences, counseling, and other interventions will continue and will not interfere with classroom time. Staggering arrivals and departures will assist with social distancing.

This AM/PM plan is expected to provide better academic benefits with the return of in-person teacher time in very small cohort sizes while minimizing logistic health challenges such as lunchrooms and crowded buses. It allows Kindergarteners some time to get oriented and comfortable in school. [Previous Board meetings covered the extensive school facility preparations to provide improved ventilation systems, classroom and office reorganizations for social distancing, and new hygiene practices.]  

Quaranting students

School Board Director Melissa Johnson asked how quarantining will work with COVID-positive students.  Superintendent Manahan stated that a few months’ experiences with preschool students had taught them how to manage sick kids’ handling and isolation. Following the DOH guidelines, staff will identify a sick student’s close contacts – the ‘circle of influence’ – then notify their families to quarantine for 10 days. The circle will not necessarily mean everyone in a classroom will be under quarantine: exposure risk will be determined by intensity, distance, and mitigating factors. All families will be notified if a classmate test positive, whether their child is considered exposed or not.

Student families will be required to do an attestation each day that the student does not have a fever or feel ill. The District website has a detailed Return to School Safety Handbook at https://www.svsd410.org/domain/1971

When will Middle and High School students return?

The timing of Middle and High Schools reopening depends on case numbers and academic scheduling. Since we are currently at the ‘Moderate’ level after the elementary schools successfully reopen, Middle Schools can reopen, but High Schools require <200 cases per 100k population rates.  The logistics of changing classes every class period makes simple cohorting inapplicable.  Academic schedule planning is already underway and will be much more complex due to multiple teachers and class offerings.  Superintendent Manahan summed it up: using the new State Checklists, can we prevent, respond to, and monitor incidence or transmission at school to protect students and staff from risk?  We must learn how to accomplish that.  They may even need volunteers to support staff. The District has 7,000 students and hundreds of employees whose health and interests must be considered. This is the safest possible opportunity to return.

The next School Board meeting will be January 14th at 5 pm.

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