Battle Ground Public Schools finalizing hybrid learning plans

Students would attend in-person classes two days a week, with online learning the rest of the time

BATTLE GROUND — NOTE: An earlier version of this story referenced a Memorandum of Understanding between BGPS and the Battle Ground Education Association that hybrid learning would begin only at a rate of 55 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents in Clark County over a two week window. The district has clarified that the MOU states that the district will notify the board when case rates reach 55 or fewer, but would maintain the ability to recommend a change to hybrid once cases remain below 75 per 100,000 for three consecutive weeks.

As strange as it has been for parents, students, and teachers to adjust to the new world of distance learning, the first tentative steps back into the classroom may be even more stressful.

This week, the Battle Ground Public Schools Board of Directors heard an update on plans for transitioning to a hybrid learning model as soon as COVID-19 case rates return to the moderate or low-risk range for at least three consecutive weeks.

Battle Ground High School. File photo
Battle Ground High School. File photo

“A lot of this stuff is new for us,” admitted Deputy Superintendent Denny Waters during his presentation to the board. “So we don’t have our experience to draw back on, we can only imagine what might occur or what might not occur.”

Waters said the plan was “80 to 90 percent set,” but admitted during nearly an hour of discussion that a long list of issues remain to be settled.

Chief among those will be the threshold at which educators will agree to return to classrooms. There has been some disagreement with the Battle Ground Education Association over a Memorandum of Understanding which states “the District will inform the board when county-wide cases are in the mid-range of moderate (55 or less in a 14 day window and trending downward) on the decision making tree guidance released from the State Department of Health.”

The union took that to mean the district would not move into hybrid learning until case rates dropped below 55 per 100,000 people.

Superintendent Mark Ross maintains the authority to return students to classrooms lies with the School Board and the superintendent.

In a note to BGEA, obtained by Clark County Today, Ross noted the MOU states, “the District will return to regular operations (with some modifications) when the Superintendent and School Board determine it reasonably safe to do so consistent with the recommendations of the Washington State Department of Health issued on August 5, 2020, and in consultation with Clark County Public Health.”

The district now appears to be setting “moderate risk” as their primary benchmark, which the state translates as anything at or below 75 cases per 100,000 residents in a 14-day period.

Another major question mark is how schools will handle staffing. 

Shelly Whitten, the district’s assistant superintendent and head of Human Resources, noted that they already have a significant number of certificated staff choosing to take a leave of absence because they don’t feel safe returning to buildings.

“If we get too many students absent, or we get too many teachers absent because of an outbreak at a particular building, we may not be able to open school and at that point,” said Whitten. “We may have to shift back to remote learning.”

Since districts in the area generally tend to use substitute teachers from the same pool, said Whitten, “a struggle will be how much of our regular substitutes group have we depleted?”

At least 20 percent of the district’s parents have already said they intend to keep their children out of the classroom even after the transition to a hybrid model.

Once the new case rate subsides, primary school students would be the first to begin transitioning back to the classroom, with middle and high school grade level students following later.

Under the current plan, primary school students would be divided into two groups, based on last name, with Group A composed of A-L students, though Waters said parents could request to change groups for scheduling purposes.

Group A would attend in-person classes on Monday and Tuesday, with Group B going Thursday and Friday. Wednesday would be reserved for online instruction, and teacher planning and development, while the buildings undergo a deep clean.

The in-person instruction day would start with students being dropped off at the curb and then lining up for an attestation process, during which their temperature would be taken and they would be asked a series of health-related questions.

Anyone with a temperature above 100.4 degrees, or exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, would be taken to a room set aside for quarantine, and a parent would be called to take them home.

Students who pass the attestation would have classes from 10:10 a.m. until 3:10 p.m., and eat lunch in their classroom.

Middle School grade levels would be similar, with the school day starting two hours earlier, and also lasting 5 hours. There would be six periods, with classes lasting approximately 43 minutes. Students would eat lunch in their cafeteria or common area, with social distancing enforced.

High school students would start their day at 7:55 a.m., and get done just before 1 p.m. They would have three periods of 85 minutes each, with a socially distanced lunch in the cafeteria or common areas.

“One of the reasons why we’ve set up the schedules, the way we have in the high school, to enable students to actually do some work in labs,” Waters said, noting that high school schedules have been the most difficult to work out.

Waters added that busses would be running, though potentially on a reduced schedule. Parents are being encouraged to bring their students to school if possible in order to provide room for students to spread out on the bus.

Masks would be required at all times students are on the bus or in school, and staff will be asked to help enforce those rules.

“We’re going to count on them to help us with the education,” said Superintendent Mark Ross, “help us on convincing students that it’s the right thing to do, and help us on establishing those relationships with kids. So they understand that we’re trying to do what’s best we’re trying to keep schools face-to-face and open.”

They will also be relying on staff and nurses to let them know if a student has a condition that might make them cough, or exhibit other symptoms that could be mistaken for COVID-19.

Still, Whitten said they will be taking a cautious approach to isolating anyone who may be sick.

“Some of our exposures were from people who didn’t think that the symptom they had could be COVID,” said Whitten, “because they had other underlying regular conditions like allergies, or some people that thought their throats were irritated because of the smoke.”

A key factor in keeping schools open will be the ability to do rapid testing, a capability the county hopes to have more of in the near future.

If there’s a suspected case, they would be sent home until testing could be conducted.

“Clark County Public Health will notify the school district of potential exposure to COVID-19 in a learning or work environment,” said Waters, “and then we will support the health department in its follow up work.”

That could include closing a school, at least for a day or two in order to deep clean. The district has contracted with an outside agency that specializes in doing extensive sanitization of commercial and industrial buildings.

Waters said students and staff would be asked to bring their own masks, but the district has been working to stock up on supplies in order to have extra protective gear on hand in case someone forgets. 

The Battle Ground Public School’s website has a frequently asked questions page where parents can learn more information about the plan.