Despite COVID-19 increase, some districts still bringing small groups of students into schools


Special needs students and those in need of extra help will be able to attend classes in groups of no more than five

VANCOUVER — Clark County school districts are recalibrating after a recent increase in COVID-19 cases pushed the county back into a high-risk category based on state metrics.

Anything over 75 new cases per 100,000 residents within a 14-day period is considered high-risk. For Clark County, that equates to an average of 27 new cases per day. In the 14-day period ending Sept. 12, the county averaged just over 76 cases per 100,000 residents.

Evergreen School District administrative service center. File photo
Evergreen School District administrative service center. File photo

Evergreen Public Schools reached a deal with its teachers’ union requiring the county to remain in the moderate risk range for a consecutive four week period before the district can begin transitioning its 1st through 5th grade students into a hybrid learning model.

With the county back in high-risk range, the earliest that could now happen would be the week of Oct. 26.

While the delay is disappointing for many, Evergreen Public Schools Superintendent Mike Merlino said Tuesday the district is grateful to have a little more time to prepare for the transition.

Washougal first grader Peri Fick is given weekly learning materials from her teacher, Allison McGanahan. Photo courtesy Washougal Public Schools
Washougal first grader Peri Fick is given weekly learning materials from her teacher, Allison McGanahan. Photo courtesy Washougal Public Schools

This week, the district launched a small pilot program for kindergarten-age students at some schools, allowing small groups of no more than five to come into buildings for in-person instruction throughout the day.

“Honestly, it’s a lot of work when you’re talking about bringing in small groups at the same time you’re doing remote learning, and at the same time you’re planning for hybrid,” said Merlino during Tuesday’s Board of Directors’ meeting.

Students in other grade levels are also being allowed to come into schools as needed, especially special needs students and those at high risk of falling behind during distance learning.

Merlino said their estimate is that slightly more than 1,000 students, out of a district of nearly 23,000, will be accessing buildings throughout the day, starting next week.

Beginning next week, each school in the district will have an engagement team on campus, working to identify students who may need extra help, and then planning a schedule to bring them in at least one day a week.

District spokesperson Gail Spolar said they are working to bring furloughed classified employees back into schools as necessary, to support educators as students return to the buildings.

Music teacher Amy Switzer leads an online class inside Columbia River Gorge Elementary School in Washougal. Photo courtesy Washougal Public Schools
Music teacher Amy Switzer leads an online class inside Columbia River Gorge Elementary School in Washougal. Photo courtesy Washougal Public Schools

Washougal Public School Superintendent Mary Templeton said their district is conducting a similar program, to bring in students “furthest from education justice.”

Templeton says the district is exercising caution, including requiring masks and social distancing when students are on campus, along with extra sanitization stations.

“All of us are eager to get students back in the classroom!” Templeton wrote in a statement to Clark County Today. “All of us play a part in helping lower the rate and keeping ourselves healthy, which will let us return to school in-person!”

Other school districts are currently working on plans to potentially bring students into buildings on a limited basis, though plans have not yet been announced.

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About The Author

Chris Brown comes to Clark County Today with 15 years of local news experience as a reporter, editor, and anchor at KXL News Radio and KOIN-6 TV in Portland. In 2016, he won an Oregon Association of Broadcaster's award for Best Investigative Reporting for a series on America's Violent Youth. He has also been awarded by the Associated Press for Best Breaking News coverage as editor of Portland's Morning News following the 2015 school shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The second oldest of eight home-schooled children, Brown graduated from high school two years early. After several odd jobs, he earned an internship at KXL Radio, eventually working his way into a full-time job. Brown has lived in Clark County his entire life, and is very excited at the opportunity to now focus full-time on the significant stories happening in his own back yard, rather than across “the river.’’ After a few years in Vancouver, he recently moved back to Battle Ground with his wife and two young daughters. When he's not working to report what's happening in Clark County, Brown enjoys spending time with his family, playing music, taking pictures, or working in the yard. He also actually does enjoy long walks on the beach, and sunsets.

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