PORT ANGELES — As Clallam County experiences a rise in COVID-19 cases, the Port Angeles School board will vote Thursday on beginning the school year by educating older students online and younger children in classrooms.
Board President Sandy Long said Tuesday that, under the formula outlined last Thursday by schools Superintendent Martin Brewer at a Kiwanis meeting, some children within grades K-6 would attend their respective schools while middle and high school students would start classes Sept. 3 by distance learning from home.
To maintain social distancing that is not possible in normal class sizes, two groups of students would separately attend school two days a week, distance-learning two days a week while the other group is in school. Both groups would distance learn on the fifth day.
What Long described as a multi-step plan that was not available Tuesday afternoon on the board website offers “a gradual opening rather than doing everything at one time,” depending on the extent of the coronavirus in the county.
Long said the board will vote on the plan Thursday during a virtual meeting that begins at 7 p.m. at tinyurl.com/ PDN-BoardCovid, at which time the public can participate. Residents are urged to submit comments before the meeting.
Further details of the plan that the board will vote on are expected to be available on the school board’s website by 5 p.m. today at tinyurl.com/PDN-BoardCovid.
Specifics of the final plan Brewer will employ will be posted on the district’s website two weeks before school opens, according to the resolution.
“The Board recognizes that the circumstances related to reopening schools safely are mutable, and the reopening plan requires monitoring and possible revision,” the resolution says.
“Therefore, the district superintendent will monitor the reopening plan throughout the 2020-21 year, and the district will revise and update the reopening plan as needed.”
All students and staff will wear masks and observe 6-foot social distancing, Brewer said.
Parents who take issue with the regimen can have their children attend the district’s online K-12 Seaview Academy, which about half the parents who have contacted Long have said they want to do, Long and Brewer said.
The district has 3,500 students.
“We have a pretty large group that is requesting Seaview,” Long said.
“I think we’ve got a pretty good plan, as long as there are options, and we’ve got academic options, and people have a choice on what they can do.”
Long said students would gradually return to classroom instruction based on COVID-19 cases per 100,000 Clallam County residents and the input of county Health Officer Dr. Allison Unthank.
“It all depends on what the virus is doing,” Long said.
Cases in Clallam County “are going in the wrong direction, now,” she added.
“Before we talk about academics, we have to talk about safety.”
The students’ return will be based on Gov. Jay Inslee’s recommendations for low, moderate and high-risk counties that are based on cases per 100,000 residents.
Clallam is a moderate-risk county, in a category of 25-75 cases per 100,000 over a two-week period.
Clallam had 53.9 cases per 100,000 based on tests collected between July 26 and Sunday. Thirteen cases were reported Friday and Saturday combined.
Inslee designated counties with fewer than 25 cases per 100,000 population, such as Jefferson, as low-risk, recommending a less-restrictive teaching model.
Jefferson had five cases in the past 14 days and a 15.7 per 100,000 rate.
According to a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Hospital Association, there was a 40 percent increase in COVID-19 cases among children and teenagers to 97,000 cases nationwide between July 16-30 (tinyurl.com/PDN-SchoolCovid).
Health officials also say young children can spread the coronovirus and show respiratory symptoms yet not get seriously sick.
“We have to decide what the best thing is right now for our children,” Long said.
“That’s what we’ll talk about on Thursday.”
John Henry, Port Angeles Education Association president, said Tuesday his Washington Education Association local — which represents 250 teachers, nurses and other certificated staff — has been planning all summer for instruction beginning in September, either in classrooms, online or a combination of the two.
“We have to prepare for online formats,” Henry said.
“That’s just going to be a reality.”
He estimated between 400 and 500 students have signed up for Seaview Academy.
Brewer said last week that 25 district staff members were transferred within the school system to meet their concerns surrounding COVID-19.
Teachers and other employees operate under state Labor and Industries standards, Henry said.
“Staff can ask for accommodations if they have health concerns and health risks, and the district can find different ways to accommodate that,” he said.
Some teachers also can work from home, Henry added.
“This is a small district, and we’ll continue to work to find solutions,” he said.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].