Following the lead of other districts and opting against the Department of Health’s “decision tree,” the Enumclaw School District has announced its youngest students will be returning to classrooms following the Thanksgiving holiday.
In a letter to parents last week, the district shared that kids in kindergarten through second grade will return to school in a hybrid model beginning Nov. 30. That model will have students spending two full days in their classroom and three days using the current, remote learning format; while one group will attend school Monday and Wednesday, others will attend Tuesday and Thursday.
The district letter, signed by Superintendent Shaun Carey, added that remaining elementary students (grades three through five) could return to school buildings two weeks later, also using a hybrid learning model.
The bottom line, from the district perspective, is that sending kids back to school does not spark the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The most recent research indicates that schools are not drivers in increasing transmission rates,” Carey’s letter said. “Nationally, where schools have gone back in person and followed the recommended safety guidelines (including states with much higher rates) approximately 3 percent of schools have reported five or more cases; only 1 percent of schools have reported 10 or more cases.”
Local transmission rates continue to exceed standards previously used as a benchmark for returning students to classrooms. But, Carey said, other factors have been considered locally. And that evidence, he said, resulted in the tough decision to no longer use the DOH Decision Tree as the only factor for reopening.
“We have learned from other school districts that schools can reopen safely and successfully amongst higher rates than we are currently experiencing,” Carey wrote. “Given what experts in the field understand about the virus both locally and nationally at this time and what we have learned from other districts and other states, the climate has shifted.”
The superintendent noted that the district has successfully had many small groups of students on school grounds during this time of remote learning. Pre-kindergarten students and those attending the Birth To Five Center have been receiving in-person instruction for four full weeks, he said, without a case being reported.
Last week’s correspondence from the district was both sympathetic to the unprecedented challenges facing many families with school-age children while also addressing the simple reality of providing quality educational opportunities for all.
“As a district, we understand the challenges remote learning creates for so many of our families,” Carey wrote. “We acknowledge the effects this type of learning has on many of our students’ abilities for social and emotional learning and their overall mental health. While some of our students have done well in a remote learning model, we understand that many have not. We recognize full remote learning impacts our efforts to provide equitable education for all of our students.”
The decision by the district’s leadership team was, Carey said, a difficult one. Regionally, transmission rates continue to exceed the benchmarks of 75 new cases per 100,000 population during a 14-day span. But things have changed, he said, prompting the district to alter its course.
“As the months have passed, we as a nation have continued to learn more and more about the transmission of COVID-19,” Carey wrote. “The recommendation to school districts continues to be to open schools if it is safe to do so.”
Jessica McCartney, the district’s information officer, said the district will be calling upon the community to show its support by following accepted health guidelines. That means adhering to requirements regarding social distancing, face coverings and screening, among other things.
A decision regarding secondary students – middle school and high school – is expected during the coming weeks.