JOYCE — Crescent School Superintendent Dave Bingham thinks his district is on the right track for bringing children back to the classroom safely amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The small school district west of Port Angeles has most of its kindergarten through sixth-grade students back in school on a four-day class schedule with middle and high school students split in half on a hybrid schedule between in-class and distance learning.
Crescent — now on winter break — is one of a handful of schools in the region that has gone back to primarily offering in-class instruction, even as cases increased in Clallam and Jefferson counties.
During a tour of the school last week, State Rep. Mike Chapman said he was impressed by Crescent’s ability to provide a classroom experience while keeping students safe during the pandemic.
“I think Dave (Bingham) and his (school) board and the community know best how to run his school here,” he said.
Of the K-12 school’s enrollment of about 200 students, an average of about 125 are on campus on any given day. A total of 38 students, at the option of their parents, are on a fully-remote schedule.
Bingham has produced a capsule summary of how students are doing for the current school year. He pointed out one important statistic: zero confirmed cases of COVID-19 and zero students quarantined.
“As long as we can continue to do our countermeasures, or safety steps — around masking and distancing and custodial practices and those things — I think we’re in good shape,” he said.
Last week, Gov. Jay Inslee loosened school reopening guidelines.
School districts in counties with case rates below 50 per 100,000 population for two weeks are allowed to provide in-person education for all students. If case rates are between 50 and 350 per 100,000 residents, the state encourages districts to open elementary and middle schools. In counties with more than 350 cases per 100,000 residents, the new standards encourage elementary school students to be returned to school in groups of 15 or fewer.
As of last Friday, Clallam County had a case rate of 149 per 100,000 population for the previous two-week period.
Bringing children back to school is not without its difficulties.
To make the system work at Crescent, classrooms have been stripped of excess furniture, and desks have been spaced out to provide adequate social distancing. School lunches are taken back to classrooms to avoid cafeteria crowding, and students are required to stay apart when they go from one part of the campus to another.
Bingham said students are watched as they enter the campus and in class, and any youngster exhibiting signs of sickness is directed to a school nurse for assessment. The nursing position jumped from what used to be 10 hours per week to about 30 hours per week.
“Without a commitment to the nursing time, I’m not sure how we could do it,” he said.
And, of course, there are the masks.
Students have become very conscientious about wearing them.
“Kids are extremely resilient, probably more resilient than the adults,” Bingham said. “Early on, you had a variety of people with attitudes about masking and those kinds of things, but the truth of the matter is, kids wear their masks.”
Teachers must now juggle their time and techniques to include students taking part remotely alongside traditional classroom instruction.
“It’s hard work for teachers to teach kids that are here and kids that are away,” Bingham said.
Additionally, the Crescent School District has had to increase its staffing to accommodate structural changes in the school day, including adding time for paraeducators to assist teachers with classroom duties.
School Principal Therese Carroll concurred that the pandemic has made teaching much more difficult, but added that, so far, the system has been successful.
“It’s working really well thanks to the hard work of teachers and staff,” she said. “We’d like to have less hybrid and more kids. We’re going to look at another round of schedule building for spring and see if we can make it happen.”
Photojournalist Keith Thorpe can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 59050, or at email@example.com.