Classes like Ms. Vail’s at the White River School District’s Foothills Elementary are now split in half in order to promote social distancing. Also pictured is Daniel Franco, Waylon Sinkovic, Chase Caldwell, Jakaylah Holt, Skylar Pearce, Collin Smith, Diana Torres-Silva, Kinley Short & Lillian Clay. Photo by Ray Miller-Still

Classes like Ms. Vail’s at the White River School District’s Foothills Elementary are now split in half in order to promote social distancing. Also pictured is Daniel Franco, Waylon Sinkovic, Chase Caldwell, Jakaylah Holt, Skylar Pearce, Collin Smith, Diana Torres-Silva, Kinley Short & Lillian Clay. Photo by Ray Miller-Still

More students plan to return to the classroom

The White River School District is hoping to get all grades into their seats by Jan. 12, while Enumclaw is hoping to do the same in February.

The new year is bringing with it a likely welcome sight — students returning to their classrooms.

However, the Enumclaw School District and the White River School District are tackling the task differently, and at different speeds, so here’s how your local school stands.

The Enumclaw School District has had to backtrack to returning to school at least a couple of times, as their plans to reopen classrooms were consistently thwarted by rising COVID-19 numbers. The most recent time ESD had to reverse course was back in November, when the district hoped to get kindergarten students through second grade back behind desks Nov. 30, 2020.

The reason ESD scrapped those plans wasn’t just coronavirus related, but also that it made little sense to get students back into in-person/remote learning hybrid model between the Thanksgiving and winter holiday breaks — according to the Enumclaw Education Association, 80 percent of teachers opposed strongly to that timing.

Instead, ESD K-2 students now plan to return Monday, Jan. 11, hopefully followed by students grades 3-5 on Jan. 25; approximately 85 percent of K-5 students are opting to return to the classroom, while the remainders have decided to keep learning 100 percent online, at least for the time being.

Grades 6-12 are planning to return to classrooms Feb. 1.

It appears all students will be adhering to what’s been called an A/B learning model — half of students will be assigned to return to the classroom on Mondays and Wednesdays, while the other half will attend school Tuesdays and Thursdays, with Fridays reserved for full online learning for all students.

On the days not spent in the classroom, students will continue to receive at-home learning.

In order to make sure COVID-19 doesn’t spread in the classroom, ESD is partnering with the state Department of Health to enact a state-funded pilot testing program for voluntary coronavirus screening.

“To begin this pilot, ESD offered a drive-through, voluntary, testing opportunity to all Enumclaw School District staff before winter break began,” said Jessica McCartney, district public information officer. “Additional information on this pilot will be shared with Enumclaw School District families and the community in the coming weeks.”


Unlike Enumclaw, the White River School District has already been able to return students to their classrooms; the first day back for students K-5 was Dec. 1, 2020.

“I have been excited for this day to finally arrive, but I have to say it was even more exciting than I expected,” Superintendent Janel Keating Hambly wrote in a message to parents. “I actually heard some squeals as kids saw their teachers!”

WRSD was able to send students back to the classroom thanks to a pilot program from the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, which allowed the district to test all students and teachers for COVID-19 on a weekly basis. Through December, testing was done by Tacoma-Pierce County Emergency Management officials, but was expected to be taken over by district employees in January.

As of Dec. 16, WRSD planned to send middle and high schoolers back to their classrooms by Jan. 12.

While Enumclaw is sending students back to the classroom two days a week for a full day, WRSD is instead utilizing a.m./p.m. schedules for four days a week, based on students’ need for transportation to-and-from school.

“We simply don’t have enough buses to run the routes in the middle of the day for elementary, middle, and high school students, to drop kids off AND pick them up,” Hambly wrote in a Dec. 16 letter to parents. “Therefore, all students who need district transportation will be scheduled to the a.m. session. Students who do not need district transportation may be scheduled to the a.m. or p.m. session.”

According to Hambly, classes will be made up of a mixture of in-person and distance learning students, and teachers will be teaching them simultaneously.

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