In a pandemic-fueled world, one of life’s biggest interruptions has come in the world of public education. In these parts, students are perched in front of computers instead of classroom teachers and, in many cases, parents have been thrust into the role of educator.
Few relish the current state of educational affairs, but the situation will not last forever. On the Plateau, both the Enumclaw and White River school districts are keeping a close eye on directives from health agencies (both state and county) while developing plans to return kids to school buildings.
As of late last week, here’s where things stood on both sides of the river.
ENUMCLAW SCHOOL DISTRICT
The most recent development at the administration building was a Friday afternoon message to parents of elementary-age children (kindergarten through fifth grade). Parents and guardians were told the district is planning for a hybrid model of education in which the youngest students would attend class two days per week and learn remotely the other three days.
Having said that, the district also is aware some parents remain fearful of infection and would prefer that their kids stay at home.
“If you are uncomfortable with sending your student(s) back to school at this time we will be continuing to offer a fully remote learning option,” the Friday message said. “We recognize that making these decisions is very difficult and personal for each of our students and families.”
Those wishing to keep their children in a remote-learning environment are asked to notify the district by Oct. 1.
Also distributed Friday was a 16-page “Return to School Handbook” that details how the district is addressing COVID-19 issues. Covered are things like classroom modifications, the use of “large spaces” like gyms, cafeterias and playgrounds and transportation.
The district also had shared information with district parents early last week (Sept. 21), spelling out its phased-in plans for in-school learning.
“We received new guidance from the Tacoma-Pierce and King County Health Departments which shows that our region has transitioned from the high level to the moderate level of COVID-19 infection,” the email stated. “ESD continues to plan for a gradual return for our students.”
The Enumclaw district has identified six steps toward re-opening schools and is now operating in Phase 3. The earliest steps involve students with specific requirements, like English language instruction or special education.
Major developments occur with Phase 4, which will see pre-kindergarten students heading to schools and opening of the Birth To 5 Center. The district has planned for “21-day look-back periods” before jumping to Phases 5 and 6. Those three-week periods will allow the district to look at the health ramifications of moving into hybrid learning environments.
WHITE RIVER SCHOOL DISTRICT
A message sent last week to students’ homes was positive, indicating some return to normalcy – at least, as normal as things get in 2020.
“School districts in Pierce County got some good news from the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department recently,” the message read. “Because the 14-day case rate has moved out of the high range and into the moderate range, we have been released to allow elementary students back for in-person learning. We are SO excited to be able to bring our elementary students back into the buildings!”
However, the district sought more information before taking the final leap, emphasizing safety for all involved.
The biggest part of the puzzle involves students in kindergarten through fifth grade. When they return to schools, it will be on a Tuesday-through-Friday schedule, with Monday afternoons set aside for students needing extra help.
The letter to parents, signed by Superintendent Janel Keating Hambly, included a crucial caveat. “Our ability to sustain in-person instruction is dependent upon the strict health and safety protocols that have been developed by the Department of Health,” it read. Things could change in the event of a COVID-19 spike in the county.
Currently, the White River district has “well over 100” students making their way daily to schools, for a variety of reasons, according to Deputy Superintendent Scott Harrison. Each campus in the district has some students in the buildings, he said; some could be receiving English language instruction, some are students with special needs and some have connectivity issues at home.
Harrison said the district is viewing late November as a crucial time, what with families gathering for Thanksgiving and college students returning home for a few days. The district is guarding against a “ping pong effect,” he said, in which a drop in infection rates is followed by a quick increase.