PA students third grade and older to start school online only

Board approves plan for ‘shifting sands’

PORT ANGELES — Port Angeles School District students in grades K-2 will begin the school year with a classroom-distance learning hybrid schedule while most remaining students will learn solely through online instruction, the school board has decided.

The board unanimously voted Thursday on the 2020-2021 Academic Year Reopening and Response Plan (https://tinyurl.com/PDN-ReopeningPlan) in the wake of a coronavirus pandemic that forced the schools to shut down classroom instruction March 17.

But schools Superintendent Martin Brewer said the district is at risk of requiring distance learning for all grades when classes resume Sept. 3 if the county’s infection rate for COVID-19 does not stabilize or go down.

The plan approved Thursday consists of various stages.

Under Stage 1, students would be 100 percent online, which they were from March 27 until the end of the school year.

Stage 3 is full reopening, with all students going to school full time.

With the board’s action Thursday, the district is under Stage 2 and the first of its four steps.

If the county’s rising infection rate stays under 75 per 100,000 residents over a two-week period, K-2 students would begin the 2020-2021 school year under a staggered Stage 2.1 A/B schedule — for two groups of students — that consists of two days in classrooms and three days of online learning at home.

All other students, in grades 3-12, will do distance learning five days a week, except for special education students, who will receive a mix of online and in-class instruction depending on their education programs.

Student pick-up and drop-off operations will be based on 6-feet social distancing and may be staggered based on individual school needs.

Lunchtimes also will change.

“Our building teams will be creating lunch eating spaces that support 6-feet of distancing and will try to have students eat outside in larger spaces whenever possible,” according to the plan.

The imposition of reopening stages — a decision that rests with Brewer — will be based on the infection rate per 100,000 population.

Under stage 2.2, grades 3-6 would return to classrooms under the staggered system, followed by grades 7 and 9 in Stage 2.3 and all other students in Stage 2.4.

All grades would gradually return to school under the staggered two-days-in-school, three-days-at-home schedule before all students return to classes full time in Stage 3.

But that’s not the direction the county’s coronavirus cases per 100,000 population are headed, Brewer warned Thursday, urging adherence to strict mask-wearing and other safeguards to stop the spread of the virus.

The gradual reopening of classroom instruction is contingent on Brewer’s assessment of the per 100,000 infection rate, the board decided.

“I want to caution the board and everyone in the room this evening that at this point in time, our county rate has gone from last week, early last week, from 26.2, I believe, to Monday and Tuesday of this week being at 53 out of every 100,000, to now, it sets today, at 68 per 100,000,” Brewer said.

“So we are nearing an area where this district, if this approach is adopted this evening, would put us in a Stage 1, 100 percent online, so this plan really leans on our school system to continue to work together to do what we all want in this room this evening, which is put our students back in their seats and go back to school and learn.

“So we really need to emphasize this is a partnership. It’s not a school problem, its not a community problem, it’s our problem, and if we work together at the appropriate safeguards, we can keep our schools safe, we can keep our community safe and we can get our students back in school.”

Under recommendations recently issued by Gov. Jay Inslee for low- moderate- and high-risk counties, counties with a rate of 25 cases per 100,000, such as Jefferson, are low-risk and can operate under a less restrictive teaching model.

Counties such as Clallam are moderate-risk counties, falling in a rate range of 25-75 per 100,000 population.

High-risk counties, for which it’s recommended that an all-online learning model be adopted, have a rate over 75 per 100,000 population.

Students and some teachers who are reluctant to return to school during the ongoing pandemic will participate in the district’s online Seaview Academy, which has grown dramatically in recent months to 551 students, Assistant Superintendent Chuck Lisk said at the meeting.

Seaview has 315 elementary school children enrolled, 97 middle-schoolers and 139 high school pupils.

Lisk said 28 teachers — the district has 250 certificated staff — have transferred from classroom to Seaview’s online instruction, which they can administer from their homes.

“We’re growing daily,” Lisk said.

“I appreciate the choice this gives to our parents and our students.”

All students and staff who are at district facilities, from kindergartners to teachers, will be required to wear face masks or coverings.

Teachers and paraeducators will be provided with surgical masks, and students and non-instructional staff can wear their own face coverings if they comply with health agency guidelines.

“It will make us capable of progressing through our phases,” Brewer said.

The district has 40,000 face masks at the ready for Sept. 3, enough sanitizer to put a dispenser on every teacher’s desk and refill every week for a year, and 30,000 each of small, medium and large-size gloves, said Nola Duce, director of maintenance and facilities.

Disinfectants for cleaning classrooms, bathrooms and equipment are hydrogen peroxide- and alcohol-based.

“I think we’re in a good place, I think our crews are trained very, very well and I think we have the equipment and the chemicals to support their work,” Duce said.

Almost all students will be supplied with Chromebooks purchased by the district, assigned to them like a textbook, Brewer said Thursday.

The 39-page reopening and response plan, which affects 3,500 students and 500 staff, was posted Wednesday on the district’s website.

It drew two comments from the public at the meeting and three correspondences to Brewer’s office. That does not include individual communications to board members.

Victoria Rockholt, a Jefferson Elementary School counselor, was among the five area residents who commented on the proposal at the meeting and by letter, and the only one who vigorously opposed reopening.

“If you ask us to reopen schools, even with a hybrid model, we are all at risk,” she said in a letter read by school board member Sarah Methner.

“All of our bodies, those little 8-year-old ones, and those immortal 28-year-old ones, and those 51-year-old bodies and those 81-year-old bodies with their loose folds of soft, papery skin are at risk.

“Will you sit in those classrooms when the masks come off for lunch?”

In voting for the plan, Methner issued a stern warning about wearing masks inside school facilities.

“I know this has become a political issue, but I’m going to say it as strongly as I can.

“If your child won’t wear a mask, and if you don’t start that now with your kids, then your child won’t be welcome in my school building.

“If we going to move together, it’s going to take all the community,” Methner said.

“We are going to come together, we are going to do this, and like it or not, that’s going to involve wearing a mask.”

School board member Jacob Wright, acknowledging the many letters he received from students, parents and teachers, said the staged plan adapts well to the challenges presented by the virus.

“I’ve been all over this plan, and I think it, from my perspective, is the one that best adapts to shifting sands that we’re walking on,” Wright said, praising “its ability to adopt to the new data that comes in and really yields just to the science of what we’re dealing with, so we can really move with the virus.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

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