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Washington State school districts are considering a variety of plans for reopening for the 2020-21 school year

Vista Middle School sign (April 3, 2020). Photo: My Ferndale News

Last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a paper recommending reopening schools.

The best available evidence from countries that have opened schools indicates that COVID-19 poses low risks to school-aged children, at least in areas with low community transmission, and suggests that children are unlikely to be major drivers of the spread of the virus.  Reopening schools creates opportunity to invest in the education, well-being, and future of one of America’s greatest assets—our children—while taking every precaution to protect students, teachers, staff and all their families.“The Importance of Reopening America’s Schools this Fall” – CDC (July 23, 2020)

Back in June, each school district across Washington was given until August 19th to provide final plans for providing classes during the 2020-21 school year to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).

OSPI released the Reopening Washington Schools 2020: District Planning Guide on June 11th. It includes guidance for schools planning to reopen schools in the fall, including health and safety guidelines from the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) but left the specifics of how to accomplish these things up to each district.

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The 55-page “Reopening Washington Schools 2020 District Planning Guide” calls for districts to open schools this fall in a way that protects student and staff health and safety. School districts unable to meet in-person physical distancing requirements due to lack of space in their buildings may choose from other learning options, including split or rotating schedules with continuous remote learning, a phased-in opening with continuous remote learning, and Continuous Learning 2.0 (remote learning).Olympia School District website (July 2020)

Most districts, Ferndale School District included, have not announced firm plans for reopening classrooms this fall while they continue to work with task forces, and consider results of surveys and town hall forums.

Some school districts have already announced plans to begin the year with 100% in-home education (distance learning). These include the Renton School District, Federal Way Public Schools and Seattle School District.

Mukilteo School District announced plans for in-class learning for elementary classes and a hybrid mix of in-class and in-home curriculums for middle and high school classes.

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Many districts have announced draft plans in support of a offering both 1) a mix of in-class and in-home education and 2) 100% in-home education, allowing families the ability to choose between the 2 options.

Some districts have stated their goal is to return to in-class instruction as soon as possible. OSPI’s requirements for in-class instruction include:

  • Face coverings be worn by all staff and students (with some exceptions)
  • Physical distancing will be practiced in classrooms and throughout the buildings
  • Daily health screening of staff and students to be conducted checking for signs of illness such as flushed cheeks or tiredness

Some districts, including the Sedro-Woolley School District, have expressed concern whether current community COVID-19 transmission rates in their counties make reopening buildings for classes unfeasible.

Today, July 27th, the Blaine School District has asked families to make a choice between a hybrid curriculum or online only for each student.

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Lynden School District has announced they are making available an in-class curriculum but the number of days this will be available each week will depend on the number of students signed up for it. Other options to be made available include instruction provided primarily by parents and an independent online learning option monitored by district staff.

Bellingham and Meridian School Districts said last week that they are pursuing plans to provide both hybrid and in-home only options.

The Ferndale School District assembled a “Reopening Schools Task Force” of 58 people that is “working to design options that support student learning in a manner consistent with health and safety directives from OSPI and the Department of Health,” according to the district website. Recent taskforce meetings have included discussion of the following 3 options:

  • Full-time distance learning option
  • Rotating AA/BB groups option, which has students in 2 groups (e.g. group AA and group BB in the table below) assigned to a combination of in-class learning 2 weekdays per week and distance learning for the remaining 3 weekdays per week.
AAAABuildings closed for cleaning; distance learning for allBBBB
BBBBBuildings closed for cleaning; distance learning for allAAAA
  • Phased-in option which will have some students spending more time with in-person learning based on their age/grade level, internet access and/or other educational needs.

In the meantime, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) last week announced changes to school district sports calendars that will create 4 WIAA-sanctioned seasons and move moderate- and high-risk team sports, originally scheduled for the fall season, to WIAA Season 3 as follows (dates are tentative):

  • Season 1 (begins 9/7/20): Cross Country, Slow-pitch Softball, Girls Swim & Dive
  • Season 2 (begins 1/4/21): Basketball, Bowling, Boys Swim & Dive, Gymnastics, Cheerleading, Wrestling
  • Season 3 (begins 3/1/21): Volleyball, Girls Soccer, 1B/2B Boys Soccer, Football
  • Season 4 (begins 4/26/21): Tennis, Fast-pitch Softball, Track & Field, Baseball, Golf, Boys Soccer, Dance/Drill

WIAA officials noted that a school’s participation in any fall sports will still depend on their county’s progression through the phases laid out in Governor Inslee’s Safe Start plan.

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