Slow, steady and safe.
While the COVID-19 infection rate remains low throughout Clallam County — particularly the east end — Sequim School District’s board of directors are looking to keep a cautious approach to bringing back Sequim students to in-person instruction.
Board directors considered a speedier rate of re-opening at their regular board meeting, held virtually Monday night.
Sequim schools superintendent Dr. Rob Clark asked, with Clallam County remaining well below the “high” COVID-19 infection rate threshold of 75 cases per 100,000 population, if directors wanted to speed up the process of returning students to campuses.
“Our parents, our community is wanting to know if we could ramp up the plan and maybe get a little bit quicker with getting students on board,” Clark said. “My perspective is, I still think we need to be slow, but I think we can ramp up some of these things a little bit faster.”
He said he could see the process sped up to have any elementary school student back in class with the hybrid AA/BB model — with half of grade levels at each school in classrooms two days a week — before the winter holiday break, if not sooner.
While directors expressed optimism, some said a comparatively slower approach is most appropriate at this point, and tracking the first couple of weeks will be key to the possibility of advancing the rate of returning pupils.
“I think the Sequim community has done a very good job of keeping our numbers very low,” director Larry Jeffryes said, “(but) I’m more inclined of the go very slow approach.
“I think we have to be real careful to not move too quickly.”
About 15-18 special needs and other students are on Sequim campuses this week and about 50 students per school will be starting a hybrid model of in-person instruction starting next week, on Oct. 12.
“If we can get through a couple of weeks (safely) we can build that progression as we move on,” board president Brandino Gibson said.
Director Eric Pickens said one week of data won’t be enough to tell if re-opening Sequim schools has been successful.
“I’m more worried about putting students and staffers at risk; that’s why I think that ‘go slow’ perspective is possibly more desirable,” Pickens said.
Director Jim Stoffer noted that a two-week assessment is more realistic.
“I’m confident that we can look at picking up the tempo, but I’m concerned with going too fast; I like the slow, steady approach,” Stoffer said. “We have to remain flexible and fluid with this. Let’s make sure we assess it and make sure we have those protocols in place.”
Board directors also stressed they would like to give parents and students the option of learning remotely regardless of their grade level classmates returning to in-person instruction.
“I think that’s very important for us to respect right now,” director Brian Kuh said. “Some of our students are really struggling with how we’ve had to approach things.”
Returning students to in-person learning will be relatively less complicated at the elementary school levels, Clark said; students at lower grade levels have just one teacher and would be easier to contact trace their cohorts if one or some were to get sick, while middle and high school students have multiple teachers.
“We need to get our ducks in a row we’ll see how next week goes,” Clark said.
“(We’ll) continue to monitor situation. We may be able to speed things up but we may not. I’ll keep the board informed.”
Clark said the gist he got in conversations with parents and staff that opening remotely and focusing on refining the virtual learning process was the right choice to start the 2020-2021 school year.
“We recognized we didn’t do as good a job (teaching remotely) as we wanted last spring,” Clark said Monday. “I think we are beginning to get a handle on it.”
The Sequim School District’s website (www.sequimschools.org) has an outline of guidelines for students, staff and parents as the district buildings reopen to in-person instruction.
Capital project levy on horizon
Clark said the district will start getting more information out to the public in the coming weeks and months about his proposal for a capital projects levy he’d like to see the board put before voters in February 2021.
Initial numbers put the levy price tag at about $16 million and would pay for numerous projects at all five school campus, plus district-wide security (including electronic locks) and technology upgrades.
The initial proposal, as Clark outlined Monday night, includes, among other projects: a fire alarm and sprinkler system at Helen Haller Elementary School; a roof replacement, heating system upgrade and sewer connection at Greywolf Elementary School; roof replacement at Sequim Middle School; a heating system and gym floor replacement at Sequim High School, and water and sewer connections and a paved parking area for Olympic Peninsula Academy facilities.
The levy would also help replace a district phone system that district staff is “trying top patch it together with bailing wire and bubble gum,” Clark said.
The Sequim superintendent said there would be more discussion about a capital projects levy at the Oct. 19 regular board meeting.