The district is delaying any hope of hybrid learning for high school students until after the end of the first semester
BATTLE GROUND — Monday marked the first time many kindergarten students in the Battle Ground school district returned to in-person classes.
Facing a new reality of mask requirements, physical distancing, and a world of tape lines and arrow markings on the floor, the wide-eyed children seemed nervous, but excited to be back with their teachers and classmates.
“It certainly was heartwarming to see that,” said Superintendent Mark Ross during Monday evening’s school board meeting. “Kind of almost teared up a couple times being able to see those little kiddos back in our schools.”
In order to comply with state and local health regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic, classes are limited to no more than ten students at a time, with desks separated to provide adequate physical distancing.
Students are asked to line up six feet apart when boarding the bus, then get off single file, using hand sanitizer immediately after entering the building. They are then assigned a color, which helps them divide into lines, usually inside the gym, for attestation, a few questions, and a quick temperature check.
Inside, they are greeted with more tape lines and arrows on the ground, in an effort to keep students from wandering the halls or getting too close.
“There were a couple glitches with transportation,” Ross added, “because we had some last minute route changes that didn’t quite make it to transportation. And, of course, not all of our buses have been rolling for a while.”
District Director Mark Watron joined Ross for the first day at Glenwood Heights Primary campus, and said he was impressed with the amount of work the facilities staff had put into making it easy for the children to understand where they needed to be during the various parts of the day.
“I also like to see that there were parents that were still, you know, ‘hey, it’s the first day of school. Let’s take a picture together at the entrance,’ and things like that,” said Watron. “Even though it’s an unusual situation, it was good to see people keeping (traditions) alive.”
In order to reduce the number of students in a school at any one time, students are being split into two groups, with the first attending from 9:00-11:30 a.m., and the others arriving at 1 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Wednesdays are set aside for smaller groups, administrative work, and online instruction.
“It’s a good way to kind of practice all of our safety protocols and health measures that we have,” said Ross. “We know that we’re still in the high cases in Clark County and things don’t continue to look great. So we’ll just continue to work on our kinders and small groups of students as we can.”
High school hybrid classes delayed
With COVID-19 case counts accelerating in Clark County, hitting a high of 171.55 cases per 100,000 residents this week, students at the higher grade levels are likely to remain in fully online learning for the immediate future.
Battle Ground Public Schools has a memorandum of understanding with their teacher’s union that cases must be in the moderate range of 75 or lower for three consecutive before students in first through fourth grade levels can return to the classroom, and another three weeks after that before secondary programs could resume.
“If things miraculously turned around next week, for our secondary to even get into buildings, we’re looking at about the second week of January,” Ross told the board on Monday. “So that puts our high schools smack dab about three weeks to go before the end of the semester.”
Ross also noted that they are still wrestling with how to balance staffing to account for schools where a majority of students want to return to buildings, while others prefer to continue online learning.
“In our last survey, we had about 600 students that wanted to be remote at Battle Ground High School, and around four to 500 hundred at Prairie (High School) that wanted to stay remote,” said Ross. “So you can imagine trying to offer a full schedule for those students remotely while still doing a full schedule for students in person.”
Ross said if the WIAA makes the decision in early December to allow for a second athletic season starting near the end of the year, the district would work to allow athletes to compete, even if high school students are still fully in remote learning.
Shelly Whitten, the district’s assistant superintendent in charge of human resources added that getting kindergarten students back in class required an immense amount of shifting staff around, including some teachers working at two different schools during the same day.
“So it creates quite the challenge scheduling teachers while maintaining the six foot of social distancing that we require,” Whitten said. “Honestly, I’m not sure we have the capacity in our office to do that in a three week turnaround period.”
Deputy Superintendent Denny Waters said the extra time allows the district to work with students who plan to remain in remote learning, to pair them up with teachers who will also still be working from home.
“By going through and scheduling kids who want to stay remote with teachers are going to stay remote, when we do split, these guys don’t have to do anything except continue doing what they’re doing,” said Waters. “And this group comes back into hybrid, and we’re ready to go.”
Sydney Cordon, a Prairie High School student representative on the board said she agreed that delaying the proposed start of hybrid instruction would provide more certainty for families and staff, who might otherwise have their schedules disrupted in a switch to hybrid at this point in the school year.
“If some students change, and then there need to be adjustments, I think that you’re, I won’t want to say wasting your time, but I don’t think you’re using it to the best of your abilities,” Cordon added.
The district is providing email updates for parents, as well as posting any modifications to their hybrid learning plan online.