North Clark County schools are largely agreeing to restart learning for the 2020-2021 year with remote instruction, noting that input from health officials, staff and families point to keeping buildings closed in the fall.
Eight districts in Clark County that are a part of Educational Service District 112 (ESD 112) signed onto a recommendation to undertake remote learning this upcoming school year, including Battle Ground Public Schools, the Hockinson School District, the La Center School District and the Ridgefield School District.
“Clark County Public Health supports school superintendents who have made the very difficult decision to recommend starting the 2020-21 school year online,” Clark County Health Officer and Public Health Director Alan Melnick said in a release from ESD 112. “We all agree that in-person education is best; however, the data and science of COVID-19 suggest it’s just too dangerous to head back to the classroom right now.”
The release noted a recently-released study from the Institute for Disease Modeling pointing to increased infection as community activity rises. The study estimated that preventative measures such as masks, physical distancing and handwashing would be futile should community activity increase to above 70 percent of pre-COVID activity.
The release added other data that showed disease activity following counties moving into Phase 2 of the statewide “Safe Start Washington” process was “too high to support the reopening of schools at this time.” Clark County is currently in Phase 2, having moved into that phase in early June.
ESD 112 stated that Clark County districts have worked to implement “2.0” versions of their remote learning programs implemented after in-person instruction was shuttered in March during the first waves of restrictions put in place to fight COVID-19. Streamlining education applications and tools, investments in remote learning infrastructure and additional training on best practices for remote learning were among the improvements noted in ESD 112’s announcement.
Washougal School District Superintendent Mary Templeton said the new learning programs were “improved and more accountable” than what was implemented in the spring. ESD 112’s announcement also stated county school districts will follow requirements from the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, including identification of childcare options for students whose families can’t stay home, addressing gaps in technology access, continuing to provide school meals and using local data to provide intensive learning supports, including the possibility for in-person learning “when that is the only effective delivery method.”
Districts would also be required to keep weekly schedules for each student and will meet instructional days and hours required under state law.
Ridgefield School District Superintendent Nathan McCann said districts would work with public health authorities to eventually transition into a hybrid learning model, combining both in-person and remote methods. ESD 112’s announcement stated superintendents recommended following the Safe Start Washington phases for their own reopening, allowing for a hybrid learning model in Phase 3.
“The transition to in-person education will depend heavily on how much the virus is spreading in the community and the steps we take now to slow the spread of COVID-19,” McCann said.
“We all play a role in stopping the spread of the virus and helping schools to return to in-person learning,” Melnick said. “By wearing a face covering, maintaining physical distancing and washing our hands frequently, we can help get kids back in the classroom.”
Other North County districts have taken slightly different approaches. In an update to the district Aug. 1, Woodland Public Schools Superintendent Michael Green told families the district was “looking at a variety of scenarios” for how their instruction will look in the fall. The district had compiled a number of sources of information and scenarios on their website (woodlandschools.org/page/205) with Green encouraging more feedback from district families as it considers what the start of 2020-2021 will look like.
Green Mountain School, a K-8 district in North Clark County, is looking at beginning with a hybrid model. A July 29 letter from Green Mountain School District Tyson Vogeler explained his recommendation to the school board of directors would have students broken into A and B groups, with each attending in-person classes two days a week.
Vogeler’s letter explained that after surveying an estimated 83 percent of families, 85 percent favored “some form of in-person learning,” adding that only 3 percent of families in the district had “definite health concerns.”
Vogeler said his recommendation was made “in full consideration of the guidance from state and local health officials,” and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adding that infection rates of COVID-19 were “very low” compared to more urban districts.
Green Mountain School’s board is scheduled to vote on the superintendent’s recommendation Aug. 11.