Camas School Board discusses transition to in-class instruction

District remains committed to Public Health guidelines

At their Monday meeting, members of the Camas School District Board of Directors remained committed to the guidelines provided by Washington state and Clark County Public Health officials regarding reopening schools for in-class instruction. Board members acknowledged getting a great deal of communication from parents and members of the community. 

“If we want to get back to in-person sooner, we just need three weeks in a row of moderate, and then we’ll start the process,” said Camas School Superintendent Jeff Snell, referring to the state’s categories for COVID-19 cases. 

Clark County was at the top end of “moderate” when Snell made his comments. The next day the county reported an increase in COVID-19 cases which put Clark County in the “high” range of the governor’s plan for opening up.

Camas School Superintendent Jeff Snell addresses the media in February regarding their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo by Mike Schultz.
Camas School Superintendent Jeff Snell addresses the media in February regarding their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo by Mike Schultz.

A town hall meeting was scheduled for Tuesday evening at which Snell will brief citizens on the current plans and status for in-school instruction. He gave the school board a preview of the presentation. The town hall is scheduled for Tue., Sept. 29 from 5–6 pm. The Town Hall will be recorded for anyone who cannot attend at that time.

Current student enrollment is down 4.7 percent from the expected (budget) enrollment of 7,241. In March 2020, enrollment was 7,262 students. That drop in enrollment means a decline of approximately $3.9 million in state funding. The district expects there will be variations in numbers of students, but expects the final numbers will be about a 5-percent decline.

Current Camas schools enrollment numbers briefed during the Zoom school board meeting Sept. 28. Photo by John Ley.
Current Camas schools enrollment numbers briefed during the Zoom school board meeting Sept. 28. Photo by John Ley.

Regarding reopening, the school district website explains the process.

“Over the next three weeks, we will monitor COVID-19 activity levels in Clark County to determine if we can start our transition to hybrid learning. Parents will continue to have the option to keep their students learning remotely if they prefer. If we are below the high COVID-19 activity level for the weeks of 9/28 and 10/5 we will start transitioning our kindergarten students the week of October 12. If we continue to stay below the high level we will transition grades 1 – 5 the week of October 19. We will follow a similar three-week model for transitioning secondary students that goes through the weeks of October 19 to November 2 with a full transition scheduled for the week of November 9. For more details about the timeline and rationale please refer to the CSD Phased Return to In-Person Learning Plan.”

On Tuesday, the Clark County Public Health Department reported an increase in COVID-19 cases. The county reported 86.18 cases per 100,000 people as of Sept. 28, an increase from 76.15 cases per 100,000 the week prior.

Gov. Jay Inslee created metrics for reopening the state, including in-school education. Clark County is in Phase 2, but the uptick puts the county in the “High” category, which is at or above 75 cases per 100,000 residents. 

The health department lists “recommendations.” They do not control the decisions of independent school boards. Their recommendation for schools in the “High” category is:

“Recommendations: Distance learning with the option for limited in-person learning for students who need it most, such as children with disabilities and students living homeless. Sports and extracurricular activities postponed or canceled.”

Clark County Public Health responded to a question from Clark County Today about who has the final decision to open schools. 

“Clark County Public Health is working closely with local school districts to ensure that when students return to the classroom, it’s done as safely as possible. Clark County Public Health has issued recommendations, based on the state Department of Health guidance for reopening schools. However, as the state guidance says, “while DOH encourages local health officers and school administrators to work together to choose the best setting(s) for their students, school administrators are ultimately responsible to establish appropriate education services.

“State statute does give local health officers the authority to take action to stop the spread of infectious diseases in the community. Here’s what the state guidance says: If a local health officer determines that the opening of a school or the continuation of in-person learning poses an imminent public health threat to the community, they have the legal power and duty to direct or order an interruption of in-person learning (WAC 246-110-020).

“We hope by working collaboratively with local school districts we can return students to their classrooms as soon as safely possible.”

Camas schools have moved further away from in-school instruction due to increasing COVID-19 cases being reported in Clark County. Photo by Mike Schultz.
Camas schools have moved further away from in-school instruction due to increasing COVID-19 cases being reported in Clark County. Photo by Mike Schultz.

Snell mentioned the district has a number of in-person learning experiences happening for preschool students and early learners.  “We still have emergency childcare, provided for community members that are really stuck in a pinch,” Snell said. “We also have some on-site safe spots for online access for families that aren’t able to access at their own home. We have the bus Wi Fi as well that can work for some.”

He mentioned that people have very different perspectives about how to deliver education. “All those ideas and concerns are very valid,” said Snell. “We are in a time that we’ve never experienced before in public education. We need to listen to everybody and try to understand what those needs are.” 

Snell said there are really hard questions families are asking. “How is staying remote outweighing the risks of falling behind educationally? How is staying remote outweighing social emotional health risks including students self harm? Why wouldn’t we just wait for a vaccine and to resume in person school? How do we address these things on the other side are equally valid perspectives and concerns?”

Snell continued. “We know that in order to learn, students need to feel safe and be healthy, no matter what context it is. So we need to think about how do we have safe and supportive students. We also know that our most important asset in our district is our staff,” he said.

“We invest almost 90 percent of our budget in our staff,” he said. “We have to have them feeling safe and supported to do the job. If they don’t feel that way, they’re not going to execute in the way that we know that they can.”

The school district is currently taking a community survey of parents with children in schools. They asked:  “if we are in lower moderate, would you feel comfortable in sending your student to school?” They have about 1,000 responses of the roughly 7,000 students accounted for. Snell indicated many families are choosing to wait to respond until after tonight’s town hall.

The school’s budget was reviewed. They have spent around $450,000 in several areas responding to COVID. Just over $200,000 was spent for PPE and cleaning supplies.There was another $200,000 more invested in technology and remote learning curriculum. “We feel like we’re ready for the kids to return,” said Snell. “We feel like we’ve got the supplies we’ve secured. We’re, we’re ready to go.”

Clark County Today reported previously about a group of concerned parents calling for an immediate return to in-school instruction. You can read that story here.


About The Author

John is a retired airline pilot, serving Delta for over 31 years. Prior to Delta, he served in the US Air Force for 11 and a half years; three and a half years as a Public Affairs Officer and eight years as a pilot. John flew multiple airplanes around the world for Delta, retiring as a B-767 Captain. During his 31 years at Delta, John served as a member of the pilot’s union leadership, representing the Portland-based pilots for five years. John got involved in area politics during the Columbia River Crossing debate. He became a citizen activist, speaking out against wasteful spending and fighting for common sense transportation solutions. He ran for the Washington state legislature twice, a Representative position in 2014 and Senate in 2020. John is the eldest of six children. He remains extremely close with members of his family and lives in Oregon and Washington. He has 14 nieces and nephews and a growing number of “grands” in the next generation. John has enjoyed skiing, scuba diving, travel, and time on his Harley when he’s not busy with local issues or flying.

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