Youngsters across Jefferson County are soon to return to their classrooms, with school officials hoping COVID-19 case numbers stay at or below the moderate level.
“Part of our energy comes from that interaction with the students,” said Chimacum Junior-Senior High School principal David Carthum, “and that energy is gone this year,” in the wake of the pandemic.
Chimacum administrators, like their counterparts from Port Townsend to Quilcene, met earlier this month with Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer.
With the two-week case rate at 125.39 per 100,000, the county has reached the point where schools can reopen to more in-person learning — while it’s not a matter of absolutely safe schools, Locke noted, but rather safer. Precautions including masking, careful hand hygiene and social distancing continue to be key, on campus and off.
In the Port Townsend School District, Tuesday is the day Salish Coast Elementary School is set to bring back its 375 students — in cohorts on alternating days.
For Blue Heron Middle School’s 242 students and Port Townsend High School’s 373, “blended learning,” with some remote and some in-person classes, is slated to resume Feb. 1.
“Most students have at least two days a week of live classes,” district spokesperson Sarah Rubenstein said, while some students and parents choose an all-remote schedule.
Tuesday is reopening day for the 650 students at Quilcene School, with elementary- and middle-schoolers, also divided into cohorts, attending on alternating days.
High school students will continue with a hybrid schedule, with those at risk of not passing their first-semester classes attending in-person four days per week.
The Brinnon School District, with just 80 students, has been back to in-person classes since the beginning of the month. Their schedule includes four days a week at the school, with Wednesday a remote-learning day.
“Just in case we have to close down, we want them to be ready,” with devices and remote-classroom applications set up, said administrative assistant Amanda Gough.
This Thursday, Chimacum’s kindergartners through sixth-graders are set to return to the classroom, with cohort A attending in the morning and cohort B in the afternoon five days a week; teachers will have a 90-minute lunch and planning break at midday.
The Monday-through-Friday routine is optimal, Chimacum Acting Superintendent David Engle believes; it means more contact more often, rather than whole days on screens at home.
Chimacum’s middle and high school students will attend in cohorts too, using a hybrid model of remote and in-person classes.
If COVID cases do spike, reopening plans can be adjusted, Engle said, but “we want to get students back as soon as possible.”
After many weeks of nearly 100 percent remote learning for local students, principals such as Chimacum’s Carthum are expressing deep concern. Among seventh- through 12th-graders, far too many are failing one or more classes, according to his Jan. 13 report to the Chimacum School Board. Carthum and his staff are phoning parents, asking what they need and offering support and resources.
“We’re fighting disengagement,” Carthum said, in a year when “everything is a little — no, a lot — different … Working on the schedule for the second semester, we have to build in recovery from this, both emotional and academic.”
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]