Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Sequim school leaders opt for quicker return to classrooms

With some students already back in brick-and-mortar classrooms and Clallam County’s COVID-19 transmission rates remaining relatively low, Sequim school leaders are ready to accelerate their re-opening plans.

Sequim School Board directors unanimously agreed Monday night to a plan that would put Sequim’s elementary grade level students back in classrooms by Thanksgiving.

“The overwhelming response (from the community) is to speed up our timelines in returning students back at the K-5 level,” Sequim schools superintendent Rob Clark said Monday night.

“The only way we could do this is our community has kept our (COVID) numbers down,” board director Larry Jeffryes said.

“The citizens of Clallam County have responded.”

The district will still use a hybrid “AA/BB” model that allows half of students at each school’s grade level to return to classrooms on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other half on Thursdays and Fridays, allowing for physical distancing at each building.

Staff will use Wednesdays for professional development, cleaning of classrooms and buildings, and touching base with students.

Kindergartners are scheduled to attend in-person classes starting Oct. 26, along with some high school students for Advanced Placement and career/technical education (CTE) classes, as well as students who have problems with internet connectivity issues. A high school CTE class such as automotive technology could see six to eight students wearing masks and socially distancing but able to work on a vehicle together, Clark said.

Students with problems connecting to the internet will use the Sequim High School library, but they too will be masked and be spaced apart per safety protocols, Clark said.

The plan allows for first-grade students to return to in-person classes starting Nov. 2, with second-and third-grade students starting Nov. 9 and fourth- and fifth-grade students on Nov. 16 — each grade level also using the “AA/BB” hybrid instruction model.

There are no plans to bring back more significant numbers of middle school and high school students at this point, Clark said, because their multiple-instructor schedules doesn’t allow the district to keep them in small groups that would help maintain safety protocols.

Online teaching continues

To help staff with the workload of teach both in-person and online, Greywolf Elementary School principal Donna Hudson said she and Becky Stanton, principal at Helen Haller Elementary, plan to utilize online resources and other virtual lessons such as pre-recorded lessons from Eureka and CKLA services to supplement those staffers’ instruction.

“There will be times when Greywolf and Helen Haller students taught by folks at Eureke and CKLA,” Hudson said.

“We need our students to be back in school … but we also need a staff that can do that work,” she said.

Some teachers are working on pre-recorded lessons now for a bit of a buffer if they or a coworker is ill and cannot host a virtual lesson, Hudson said.

She said elementary school administrators and staff have been preparing for this opening for months, knowing that at some point the district would likely be bringing back groups of students one at a time.

“At this point I feel very comfortable (bringing students back),” Hudson said. “We bring our kinders back on Monday and we’re very happy to do so.”

Board directors posed a number of health and safety-related questions Monday, from how students will eat lunch (they will be served in classrooms) to personal protective equipment (staff have masks and face shields) to what happens if and when a student displays COVID-like symptoms.

“(Those students) will be isolated by our medical staff,” Clark said. “We will try to get a hold of Clallam County health officials and/or the parents. We cannot force anyone to get tested.”

The district and county health officials would also follow up with contact tracing if applicable, he said.

Meetings with associations within the district — those representing certified staff, paraeducators, transportation staff, etc. — are being set up to find agreements on workplace safety protocols, Clark said.

“I think the overwhelming thought is to get our kids back into the school as quick as possible, as long as we can do that in a safe way,” Hudson said.

“This pandemic will pass but our staff will be here. We want to honor them as people and the work they do.”

Enrollment down

Figures for October show Sequim School District enrollment is at about 2,464 full-time equivalent students — down from 2,685 in October 2019 and about 134 shirt if what the school district budgeted for this fall, according to Darlene Apeland, the district’s Director of Business Operations and Finance.

The district’s two elementary schools have 1,014 students, about 150 less than they had in October 2019.

Dungeness Virtual Academy, the district’s new online school, has 53 students attending as of the October count, Apeland noted.

While 133 Sequim-area students opted out of attending Sequim schools (for out-of-area districts, online academies and others), 177 have chosen to attend other schools this academic year, noted Trayce Norman, executive assistant to the superintendent. Of this year’s students opting for other schools, about 12 percent (22 students) are kindergartners.

While about 30 of the 177 students are attending Port Angeles classes (six online) the vast majority are choosing online schools outside the Sequim School District.

The figure does not include students opting for homeschool pr private school instruction, Norman said.

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