Survey results and community input favor full-time, in person model
CLARK COUNTY — As school districts around the county conclude the 2019 to 2020 school year, discussing what to do come fall is becoming the center of focus.
The Coronavirus pandemic has caused school closures and distance learning to become the often uncomfortable norm for thousands of families. Now, Clark County is climbing up the rungs of reopening phases and wondering what to do in education.
Evergreen, Vancouver and Battle Ground school districts are pursuing surveys and community input on how to proceed. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) released recommendations and necessary guidelines for what schooling would likely have to look like in person.
“Learning is a social activity, and we want to see our students back in the classroom,” said State Superintendent Chris Reykdal. “Protecting the health and safety of our students and staff is our top priority. If schools can meet the guidelines laid out today by DOH, they will likely be able to open their doors in the fall for in-person instruction.”
This week, Evergreen Public Schools Superintendent, Mike Merlino, outlined via Zoom, how his district plans to move forward along with the information sent by OSPI. The Evergreen district sent out a survey to students, staff and parents about a week ago asking for feedback on three main approaches to reopening. As of last night, (the survey ends today), there were nearly 10,000 responses.
“Without specific guidelines and understanding social distancing rules, a lot of the work that we had put in was to try to determine how do we bring kids back?” Merlino said. “Our goal all along has been to try to have our students back in school in the fall full time, not in a hybrid model, not in a full-time enhanced remote learning, but in a full-time model. But we needed to make sure that we were planning for all three of these models.”
Evergreen’s survey, (results below), showed overwhelming support for both the full-time in-person and hybrid learning models. Four main factors were included in the survey to show respondent’s level of value for each, they included the availability of a vaccine, social distancing, personal protective equipment, and enhanced cleaning.
Merlino also explained that a key factor for his district was whether or not the school bus fleets would be safely able to transport students to and from school. After the release of the OSPI guidelines, they have concluded with some spacing, open windows, and plexiglass shields for drivers they should be able to have equitable student transportation.
With regard to social distancing students, which for many has been seen as difficult, Merlino said Evergreen plans to look at the flow of students through it’s buildings. Reassessment of which hallways would be used when as well as table and seat placement adjustments, is a goal. He also mentioned increased opportunities for encouraging students to wash their hands throughout the school day.
As part of the OSPI requirements, students and staff would also be required to wear face masks.
“We understand that there are families that may have concerns about reopening,” Merlino said. “We believe it’s important for us to have this full time enhanced remote learning, for that reason. We’re wanting to create a system that allows some choice for our families. If you choose to send your student back full time you understand … there’s the safety procedures in place, but if you’re concerned about that you have the opportunity to continue with the remote learning.”
Battle Ground Public Schools’ Superintendent, Mark Ross, also briefly commented on how the procedure of adjustment would go over the course of the summer in his district, noting there is much more than simply picking an option.
“We have a lot of preparations. I know there’s been thoughts about why not start earlier in August? There’s a lot of people we don’t see in July,” he said. “We can work on getting our schools physically ready in July, but there’s a lot of planning. We don’t really move up all of our students until the end of this month, and then July happens and we don’t have teachers and we don’t have principals. We know parents need to plan too, so our hope is something in June.”
Vancouver Public Schools are also currently conducting their own survey through June 19 and will use their results as well as the OSPI recommendations to release their plan later this month.
During last night’s webinar, Merlino also elaborated on what next year would look like from a health department perspective. On a Zoom call with Clark County Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick and other superintendents, Merlino asked about what would happen if a confirmed case of COVID-19 popped up in a school during the fall.
Melnick explained that this would not necessarily mean that school would have to immediately shut down. With the contact tracing efforts now in place in Clark County, a positive case at a school may only mean quarantine of a single class or portion of the student and staff body, Melnick told superintendents.
It is very situational, Merlino said. The amount of cases, tests and types of tracing would be factors.
If students half to or choose to stay home, the other element will be if funding is maintained for them to do remote learning and how their attendance would be tracked or counted, Merlino said.
“We obviously are concerned about our students’ safety as well as our staff safety,” Merlino said. “We will continue to follow guidance and have conversations and will continue to monitor the reopening phases in Clark County. We will coordinate with public health and other county districts for consistency. It is something that, I think, we’ve done quite well working with the other districts in the county and we will have continuous updates as new items emerge over the summer.”
The Washington Education Association (WEA) also weighed in on the conversation with support for state and local plans, but skepticism about certain requirements for reopening.
“We share the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s interest to return to school as close to normal as is possible, to the extent that it can be done safely,” said WEA President, Larry Delaney, in a statement. “However, we question if social distancing guidelines can truly be met in many schools across our state, given typical class sizes. It is now critical that every school district superintendent work with educators and families to make sure equity concerns drive our actions.”
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