FORKS — Two Clallam County school districts resumed in-person classes for non-kindergarten students last week and more are set to reopen for increasing numbers beginning Monday.
Quillayute Valley and Crescent school district officials reported successful reopenings with strong masking compliance among students and new demands on staff who are juggling the needs of remote and in-person learners.
Safety remains the top priority as schools adapt to state-mandated COVID-19 protocols, they said.
“It’s definitely a challenge, but we’re up to it,” Quillayute Valley School District Superintendent Diana Reaume said Thursday.
“The kids are really happy to be back in class, and it’s good to see their smiles,” Crescent School District Superintendent David Bingham added.
Quillayute Valley opened its doors for Forks-area students in all grades Monday while Crescent School in Joyce reopened for elementary-aged students and some older students.
“I call us the trailblazers out here,” Reaume said.
Some West End families did not have internet access for remote learning when the coronavirus pandemic prompted a nationwide lockdown in March.
“I feel like it’s a blessing that we have this time with our children,” Reaume said.
Port Angeles School District began kindergarten classes Monday and will gradually reopen for more students if COVID-19 transmission rates remain low.
Sequim School District students will begin to return to classes Monday with a staggered start-up.
Cape Flattery School District has continued remote learning and will reevaluate the possibility of in-person learning in early November.
All districts switched to remote learning in March.
“The logistical hurdles to open large numbers of classes in Port Angeles are somewhat different than they are in some of our West End schools,” Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer, in her weekly COVID-19 briefing Friday.
“I just want to acknowledge the incredible work being done by our schools, by our administrators, by our teachers, by the kids.
“We’ve had a bunch of kindergartners in school right now who are all doing great at wearing masks and washing their hands and keeping their distance,” Unthank added.
“So it’s been very impressive to see some of our youngest learners do so well with physical distancing.”
COVID-19 transmission in Clallam County has remained low since a series of outbreaks in July.
“We are hopeful that many of the school districts, if we can continue to hold our numbers low in the county, can start to bring back additional grades in the next couple of weeks,” Unthank said Friday.
Between 55 and 57 percent of Quillayute Valley School District’s entire student body has returned to school, Reaume said. The Forks district is operating on a reduced schedule between 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.
“To be honest, that’s about all our staff can handle,” Reaume said.
“It does take a lot more staff to really do the safety protocols thoroughly.”
As of Thursday, about 43 percent of the Forks-area families had opted to continue with remote learning.
“Families are really still trying to decide what’s better for their students,” Reaume said.
“It’s going to take a couple of weeks to really iron that out.”
In-person instruction provides an important routine for children, a structured environment and added layer of accountability, Reaume said.
“What’s different about our model is that we’re really still doing the online part in person,” Reaume added.
“Our goal is to, No. 1, make sure our kids are healthy and safe, getting breakfast and lunch, and that they understand how to use our online platform.”
Crescent students are on an A-B hybrid schedule with one group attending class Monday and Thursday and the other group attending school Tuesday and Friday. Both groups learn off-campus on Wednesdays.
“Each level of increased reopening takes a greater need for staff,” Bingham said in a Thursday interview.
“We have teachers that are also serving kids that are still at home, so it’s hard work.”
Bingham and Reaume each reported strong masking compliance among students.
“I’m very surprised how easy that has been,” Reaume said.
“We’ve had a few minor incidents, but we’re teaching those protocols and I think overall we haven’t really had any issues.”
Students at Crescent eat breakfast and lunch in their classroom to limit social interactions at mealtime. Buses are running at about one-third capacity, Bingham said.
“I’ll be honest, it’s been fairly routine,” he added.
Reaume said she was “extremely proud” of the parents and students for adjusting to the changes and the teachers who have quickly transitioned from remote instruction to a hybrid in-person model.
“We’re just trying to figure out the extracurricular part now,” Reaume said.
“That’s our next hurdle.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at [email protected].