While Gov. Jay Inslee’s order to have K-12 students back in school buildings at least part-time goes into effect April 19, several local districts have been ahead of the curve, with some eyeing a full five-day return by the end of the month.
During a March 12 press conference the governor announced the requirement that districts statewide implement at least a hybrid learning model for all of their students. Locally, districts have been ahead of the deadline at implementing such models, with some using another statewide change that reduces required distancing of students to 3 feet in the classroom to bring all students back to school.
Battle Ground Public Schools
Battle Ground Public Schools has plans to bring back all K-12 students starting April 26. In a March 30 update, Superintendent Mark Ross announced the target date as he touched on remote learning changes resulting from a full five-day in-person schedule.
BGPS students have been doing some sort of in-person learning for months, BGPS Communications Officer Rita Sanders noted. It began with kindergarteners in November, primary and middle school students in early and late February, respectively, and high school since March 15.
Sanders estimated about 84 percent of students will be opting for in-person learning. Those who choose to stay with remote learning will see some adjustments as in-person classes return to a five-day schedule.
The superintendent’s update explained remote learning would follow similar schedules to in-person classes at middle and high school levels as they are taught simultaneously, while primary grades will have age-appropriate remote learning and screen time.
The update noted remote learning students would be required to do more independent, self-directed work, with fewer opportunities for teacher interaction during the in-person school day, but those students will have time at the end of the day to ask their teachers questions.
Regarding the switch to 3 feet of distance for students in the classroom, Sanders said although it has helped the district have more students in learning spaces, the necessity to maintain the original 6 feet of distance requirement in common areas and during lunch, physical activity, and performance arts classes is still a challenge. The district had to come up with solutions such as expanding lunch areas into gymnasiums or adding additional lunch periods at some schools.
Though there are still logistical challenges, Sanders said a five-day schedule is the “next step in normalcy” to have all students back in buildings.
Woodland Public Schools
For Woodland Public Schools, the district has set a “soft” date of April 27 for returning students to classes full-time or nearly full-time, WPS Superintendent Michael Green said. The district faces a unique challenge among North County districts in that much of it lies in Cowlitz County, which has seen enough COVID-19 activity to warrant a move back down to Phase 2 in the state’s “Healthy Washington” plan effective April 16.
Green said state guidance recommended keeping the 6 feet of distance requirement in classrooms if case rates in a county stay below 200 per 100,000 of population in the past 14 days, which Cowlitz County has struggled with recently.
As of April 16, the county had a recent case rate of 370 per 100,000, according to Washington State Department of Health data.
Even with a shift to 3 feet of distancing, Green said the lessened restriction was still “fraught with challenges,” adding state health department guidance had that distance at closer to 4-and-a-half feet. He mentioned similar needs for 6 feet of distances in common areas and during activities such as physical education, choir, and band as Sanders did, remarking it’s “(n)ot an easy problem to solve when you have limited space in classrooms and schools.”
Though a full K-12, five-day, in-person schedule may be contingent on falling cases in Cowlitz County, Woodland has had all of its students from kindergarten to fourth grade in school Monday through Friday for several weeks, Green said. He said a small number of students have opted for remote-only in those grade levels, which is supported through the district’s Lewis River Academy program and through three teachers at North Fork Elementary School.
Both Woodland middle and high schools have been on a hybrid learning model, Green said. Half of students attend in-person two days a week and the remainder of the students attend on the other two days, with Mondays dedicated to remote instruction. Woodland High School differs in that classes are simulcast. Students at the middle school who are learning remotely aren’t synced with the in-person instruction, while the high school classes are.
Green said about 40 students from Woodland Middle School and 100 students from Woodland High School have opted for remote-only instruction, operated through the district’s Lewis River Academy program.
Green Mountain School
In northeast Clark County, Green Mountain School — a K-8 district — has had its kindergarten through fifth-grade students on campus at least part time beginning in November, district superintendent Tyson Vogeler said, though the district returned to distance learning after Thanksgiving break.
In January, Green Mountain School began easing students back into classrooms, Vogeler said, starting with kindergarten through third grade for four half days every week and fourth through sixth-grade students in small groups two days a week. All of the district’s grades had some sort of in-person instruction beginning in February. The district moved to a five-day schedule for all grades April 12, keeping a half-day, in-person schedule that allows for 6 feet of distance.
Following the approval of the 3 feet distance requirement, Vogeler said the school board wrestled with different options to bring back students into classrooms full time, eventually opting for one where students will all attend together for slightly more than half of the day. One of the biggest concerns was students eating lunch without masks, he explained, so the model releases students out of school before lunchtime.
Vogeler added some students will be in the building for a full day with the new model for academic support and small-group instruction as a way to handle learning losses that resulted from extended remote learning during the pandemic. He said the board would be voting on final approval this week, with a tentative date of implementing the new model set for April 26.
Ridgefield School District
On April 19, the Ridgefield School District transitioned its kindergarten through sixth-grade students to five full days a week, district superintendent Nathan McCann said, with plans to have all K-12 students back in buildings full-time on April 27, contingent on Clark County COVID-19 rates not rising to high-risk levels.
The district has been phasing in its grades for hybrid learning since the start of 2021, going up grade levels in a phased-in approach. Prior to the return to a traditional five-day schedule, the district had its kindergarten through fifth-grade students attend in-person school for four half-days a week, divided by a.m. and p.m. sessions. Sixth through 12th-grade students were attending two full in-person days a week.
McCann said about a quarter of elementary students have been learning remotely, with roughly a third of secondary students using the remote option. He remarked that a silver lining of having to provide a remote option has been letting families explore more flexible learning options, mentioning the district will be launching a virtual learning program next year.
The three-feet rule has been a help for RSD to get back to a more normal school week, McCann said, saying it was a “moral obligation” to handle any challenges the need to maintain distance entails.
“They are logistical challenges with solutions,” McCann said, noting that for classes like physical education, higher temperatures make it easier to use outdoor spaces to spread out.
McCann commented the district had checked more than 47,000 temperatures since it began bringing students back into buildings, and only two students required a secondary oral thermometer test, both of whom passed.
“Families have been really intentional that if (their students) don’t feel well, they have not come to school,” McCann said. “I think that’s been a big part of keeping staff and students healthy.”
McCann said the ability for districts to have more in-person instruction would help alleviate the negative impacts that a strictly remote learning environment has caused.
“I don’t know that I can imagine something that’s been more inequitable in modern history of education than this (pandemic),” McCann remarked. “The opportunity to return students to their more traditional setting is a wonderful feeling.”
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