PORT ANGELES — With the stubborn COVID-19 pandemic in mind, Port Angeles School District is considering a 2020-2021 school year that begins with children up to 10 years old being instructed in classrooms and remaining students engaging solely in online distance learning, Superintendent Marty Brewer said Thursday.
A hybrid model of distance learning three days a week and in-person classes two days a week for the district’s 3,500 students was being formulated until Gov. Jay Inslee announced tighter school-reopening standards Wednesday.
Brewer will present a recommendation to the school board Thursday at its virtual meeting at 7 p.m., he told a meeting of Kiwanis Club of Port Angeles. The agenda, and directions for joining the meeting, will be posted next week at tinyurl.com/PDN-paschoolboardaug13. Residents are urged to submit board-meeting comments ahead of the meeting.
“The board ultimately makes this decision based on the delivery model for the fall and where we start,” Brewer said.
“The health official [Dr. Allison Unthank] can override that if there are unsafe conditions by her assessment, but the board has a lot of authority in this.”
Brewer said in an interview after the meeting that the plan could include varying degrees of in-person and distance learning for children younger than 10.
Inslee laid out standards Wednesday that offered plans for three risk categories, a framework within which Clallam County falls at the moderate-risk level.
Under the standards, high-risk counties — 25 of the state’s 39 counties — have more than 75 new cases per 100,000 population over a two-week period and should consider distance learning for all students and no in-person learning except for high-need students.
Moderate-risk counties such as Clallam have 25-75 new cases per 100,000 over a two-week period.
Inslee recommended they have distance learning for middle and high school students with options for classroom instruction for elementary students, as well as canceling or postponing all in-person curricular activities.
As of Thursday, Clallam had 38 new cases over a two-week period ending Thursday, or 49 cases per 100,000.
At the meeting, Brewer employed state totals that showed 32.9 cases per 100,000 from July 17-30, still putting Clallam in the moderate range and keeping neighboring Jefferson County at low risk.
“The [state] Department of Health recommends distance learning with expanding of in-person education beginning with elementary [students],” Brewer told Kiwanis members.
Students younger than 10 benefit most from in-person learning and are at less risk of contracting the coronavirus than older students, he said.
The five smaller, low-risk counties, such as Jefferson, have fewer than 25 cases per 100,000 in a recent two-week period.
Jefferson sat at 12.9 cases per 100,000 for the July 22-Aug. 5 two-week period, with four in the last two weeks, Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke said Wednesday.
For smaller-risk counties, state health officials recommend the hybrid-distance learning model of full-time in-person instruction for elementary students that the Port Townsend School District has been pursuing.
If a student or teacher tests positive for the coronavirus, Brewer said he will be notified by Unthank and a contact-tracing protocol will be implemented, with a quarantine imposed as necessary.
“There were some high-schoolers that were COVID-positive this summer, but today, I don’t know of any that are directly related to our schools, whether staff or students,” he said.
Brewer said he is working with the Port Angeles Education Association (PAEA), a union local of the Washington Education Association, on the plan he will present Thursday to the board.
PAEA President John Henry, a high school math teacher, said after the meeting that teachers were preparing for both online and in-classroom instruction and have been collaborating with the district on beginning the school year.
Brewer did not know what time period of coronavirus cases the district would consider when deciding to switch from online learning to in-classroom instruction.
“We don’t want to get into a scenario of opening and closing to brick and mortar [instruction] on a biweekly basis,” he said.
Classes start in 27 days, on Sept. 3.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].