Latest COVID-19 case rate opens door for high school in-person learning

Many Clark County school districts will bring high school grade levels back to classrooms starting next week

CLARK COUNTY — (NOTE: Story updated with new information on Battle Ground Public Schools’ high school hybrid learning plan)

(NOTE 2: This story has been updated with the latest re-opening plan from Washougal School District, which will see high school grade levels in hybrid learning by March 8)

With the latest COVID-19 case rate in Clark County dropping well below 200 per 100,000 people this week, school districts are pushing ahead with plans to bring high school grade levels back into buildings.

“We’re so excited to welcome our Spudders back next week,” said Ridgefield Superintendent Nathan McCann during a board meeting Tuesday evening. “Tuesday and Thursday are the first two days for our Spuds.”

Clark County’s rate of new COVID-19 cases fell to 137 per 100,000 people this week, opening the door for high school grade levels to return to classrooms. Image courtesy Clark County Public Health
Clark County’s rate of new COVID-19 cases fell to 137 per 100,000 people this week, opening the door for high school grade levels to return to classrooms. Image courtesy Clark County Public Health

The district welcomed eighth grade students back this week.

Another change will be a shift to a six-period day, from the current three-period system in use now. That will apply for Ridgefield High School students, as well as View Ridge Middle School effective Monday, March 1.

“I think it has some tremendous benefits, one of which is the opportunity that is something closer to normal,” McCann told the board. “All the opportunities that we can give students that are closer to normalized, I think it’s probably an incalculable emotional benefit at this point.”

In Evergreen Public Schools, ninth grade students will return to classrooms starting Monday and Tuesday of next week, with 10-12 graders starting Thursday.

Superintendent Mike Merlino said at a school board work session on Tuesday of this week that they expect to have approximately 60 percent of their secondary students in classrooms, with 40 percent remaining in full remote.

Elementary grade levels have also increased in-person learning, with as many as 80 percent of the student population now attending classes two days a week.

“We’re basically almost at the end of our first month of having K-5,” said Merlino, “and I can’t say enough about the work that went into getting us to the point where we’re at today to have that happen.”

Merlino added that, in his conversations with school districts in other parts of the state, Clark County is generally ahead of the curve when it comes to getting students back into classrooms. 

“I think it’s a testament to the work that has happened in all of our schools,” he said, “how successful we’ve been with the protocols, and following the protocols that were put in place by the Department of Health.”

Conversations are also ongoing about whether the six-foot rule for physical distancing may be overkill in some settings, said Merlino, with the potential for recommendations to change to a three or four-foot distance instead, which would allow more students in a classroom, especially at the younger grade levels.

On Wednesday, Battle Ground Public Schools announced that high school grade levels would begin returning to classrooms the week of March 15.

“I am immensely proud of the resilience shown by our students and staff during an extremely challenging year,” said Superintendent Mark Ross in a news release. “Having all our students back in buildings and learning in person is a big step toward normalcy.”

Similar to other districts, students will be divided into two ‘cohorts,’ and attend classes either on Mondays and Tuesdays or Thursday and Friday, with Wednesday set aside for fully remote instruction.

“The health and safety of students and district staff is our first priority as we move towards welcoming students back into our buildings,” said Deputy Superintendent Denny Waters.  “We are committed to doing this safely and we will adjust, adapt and change as need be to ensure that it happens.”

The district is working with Clark County Public Health to implement health and safety protocols, including allocating a nurse on special assignment with the county health department to help lead investigations, conduct contact tracing and provide COVID-19 information and resources to families should there be an outbreak in a Battle Ground school.

Woodland School District recently announced that they would be switching to a schedule that would have earlier grade levels in classrooms four days a week, up from two that most hybrid plans allow for. Merlino said that’s something Evergreen will be exploring, but there are no immediate plans to expand the number of in-person days.

Vancouver Public Schools plans to bring ninth grade students back to classrooms starting March 8, with 10-12 grade levels returning the following week. They will be on a similar two-day-per-week schedule, split between Mondays and Tuesdays, and Thursdays and Fridays.

Camas School District plans to bring high school students back for in-person orientation beginning March 1, with 2-day hybrid classes beginning March 8. More details will be sent to families this week.

Washougal School District sent a letter for families on Feb. 23 announcing that full high school hybrid will start March 8. To prepare, small groups will not happen the week of March 1, meaning special education and at risk students who have been attending in-person classes for extra help. That will allow school staff and educators to get ready. Ninth grade students will have the option to attend a preview day on either March 4 or 5, depending on which group they are in.

“These opportunities to expand our in-person educational offering are the result of all of us doing our part to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our community,” the district said in a statement. “To get more students back, all of us must wear masks, watch our distance, and wash our hands. Health officials studying the spread of COVID emphasize these simple, but critical steps in our daily lives to be able to take next steps in our reopening.”

La Center School District is bringing ninth grade students back starting Monday, March 1, with 10-12 students beginning to return March 3-5.

NOTE: Hockinson School District has not yet updated their in-person learning plan for secondary grade levels. You can read their latest update from Feb. 19 by clicking here. Clark County Today has reached out and will update this story when we get updated information from the district.