[Guest Article by Linda Hamm Grez, North Bend WA]
Last Thursday’s 10/22/20 School Board meeting reflected our schools’ current state of limbo: The District’s phased return to in-person learning via hybrid programs was paused right after the previous Board meeting on October 8th due to the rising spread of COVID-19. That pause came just three weeks after the District announced phased plans to reopen in mid-October.
Public comments from concerned and frustrated parents submitted for the School Board Agenda discussed teen mental health, Kinder learning gaps, the data used to stage school reopening and teacher union transparency. Suggestions were made to begin middle and high school sports and activities, act quickly when the data is favorable, provide additional mental health staff, and re-think phasing plans to begin in-person middle and/or high school sooner than after preschool and elementary.
District Superintendent Dr. Rob Manahan commended District staff and noted that some Life Skills and Special Ed students had returned to school and shared photos.
Dr. Manahan updated current efforts to reopen schools, prefacing it with the District’s awareness of mental health concerns and academic strains on students, stating that students’ well-being is a ‘critical and vital piece of our job.’ District staff is said to be diligently and creatively working the complex and complicated issues to bring students back. The current situation is ‘not what I want or what any of us want,’ but the District has to do it safely for students & staff.
The two main criteria are the state of the disease spread (King County COVID-19 data) and schools’ readiness to comply with detailed health and safety rules from DOH and OSHA such as social distancing, cleaning and workplace safety regulations.
Some of the complexities mentioned by Dr. Manahan include the need for bus drivers (many of whom may be high risk), the need for specific grades of FDA-approved PPE and other special materials, and schedules that maximize learning lower screen time, and other staff health considerations.
The District had been progressing to in-person hybrid classes, but the local bump in the number of cases caused the District to pause. According to Dr. Manahan, the Department of Health recommends that even if there’s a community ratio of >75 cases per 100k in population, schools should bring in the students most in need – those in SPED and Life Skills programs and homeless students.
The Teaching and Learning, Student Services and Transportation departments are together exploring creative ways to reopen. The District is exploring other options such as high school supervised online learning groups on-site, allowing athletic conditioning drills, clubs, band, choir, and smaller pods of students to still comply with DOH OSPI guidelines. Many teachers have been vocal that they want their students back.
School facilities are close to ready for students, with new signage, stickers, and PPE.
Challenges to returning to schools now include social distancing in classrooms/class sizes, the logistics of reassigning students, transportation plans, reorganizing day schedules, providing lunch, and other supervision and cleaning needs.
The District also has to be prepared for interruptions due to quarantining, isolating or outbreaks, which will be further disruptive for families’ schedules. The challenge is to balance all the factors. Director Doy noted his family in the UK have had multiple starts and stop disruptions to in-person school in just months since they started in September, which has negative impacts. All the Directors expressed concern for students and families in the current difficult time.
Dr. Manahan urged community compliance with local health guidance, such as masks’ use to decrease the disease spread, noting that the current transmission factor is at 1.3 cases (over the target of 1.0). He stated, “We can come back and phase in if we are careful.”
The Capital Projects Update described the Mount Si High School Performing Arts Center progress and shared photos of music classrooms, the auditorium and stage features. The District is hopeful that the classrooms might be available for second-semester use if the Building Department’s approval can be received.
The Student Representative Report was short due to a lack of activity but provided a positive and negative feedback on online learning.
The full School Board Agenda and attachments can be found here, using the Board docs link. All photos courtesy of the SVSD