Parents and guardians should expect more learning from home, temperature checks and plenty of social distancing for their children this fall.
While a number of options are being considered before the school board’s mid-August deadline, Sequim School District officials are preparing for significant changes for the 2020-2021 school year.
District leaders detailed various schedule options with current health restriction considerations at an online, town hall-style “Reopening School Community Forum” on July 8, as a look to open Sequim schools while upholding practices that stop the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
About 230 people attended the virtual town hall, school representatives said.
“This plan is still in draft form; no decisions have been made yet,” Sequim schools superintendent Dr. Rob Clark said.
He said the district hopes to have a plan formed by July 20, to have that plan for the school board’s consideration on Aug. 3 and a decision from board directors at their Aug. 17 meeting.
Sequim schools are scheduled to open Wednesday, Sept. 2.
What that opening looks like — and which students will be in classrooms or learning from home — remains to be decided. Clark and assistant superintendent Jennifer Maughn detailed a quartet of options a district task force developed that looks to put students back onto school campuses. The district considered data from a recent survey sent to parents and staff in recent weeks regarding reopning options.
The “hybrid” school models include:
• Option 1 (A/B/C):
Students are divided into three groups; two of those groups attend class in person while the third learns remotely, and then the groups rotate.
This option allows for two-thirds of all students to be in class at all times, offering the most in-person instruction of the three top options. It provides a consistent schedule for day care needs, Maughn said, and had strong support in the survey from all three grade levels (elementary, middle and high school). Some building scheduling modifications would have to be enacted.
• Option 2 (AB):
Students are divided into two groups, with each group getting in-person instruction every other week.
This option sees half of all students in classes at one time. Like the first option, this model got strong support from parents in the survey and would allow for consistent childcare scheduling. Students would only get at most one week of in-class instruction, however, before going back to remote learning.
• Option 3 (AA/BB):
Students are divided into two groups, with one group in class Mondays and Tuesday, the second group on Thursdays and Fridays, with their three other days learning remotely. Wednesdays would be left open for remedial work for struggling students, small group studies, professional development for staff and other activities.
It’s a similar plan the Port Angeles School District is proposing for the 2020-2021 school year; in the PA model, one group would attend class on Mondays and and Thursdays, the second group on Tuesdays and Friday.
The third option offers some in-person instruction but would put more pressure on parents and for day care services, and the district would have to modify the schedule to make up for school days lost to Monday holidays.
Each of the first three options allow for the district to switch to remote learning quickly if there is a COVID-19 outbreak, Maughn said. Each of these options would also require the district to find a method for delivering breakfasts and lunches to those learning remotely, she said.
These hybrid models allow for fewer students in classrooms at a time, Clark said; an average classroom with distancing can fit about 17 students.
“We have very few classes that have that few students,” he said.
A fourth option the district proposed in its survey — one that sees two groups of students, one attending school the first half of the day, the second in the second half — did not garner much support in the district survey, Maughn said.
“We’ve taken the half-day model off the table,” she said.
“We’ll do our best, whatever option (is selected), to accommodate all the families and all their needs,” Maughn said.
There may be some students in classes five days a week regardless of the option selected, Clark said, such as students with special needs or those with limited access to the internet.
“One of our mandates from OSPI is that we have equity for all of our students, especially those in under-served categories,” he said.
Sequim school staff are also looking at “blended” curriculum that can be offered both in-person and online to create consistency for students between in-person and remote learning during the 2020-2021 academic year.
Students can expect more space between desks, no field trips or assemblies, more time on campus but outside as weather allows, fewer visitors on campus and staggered arrival and dismissal times, Clark said.
Some classes that require removal of masks, such as band and choir,may have to be significantly adjusted to meet distancing requirements, Clark said.
The start of fall sports have been pushed back to Sept. 5, he noted.
While meal plans have not been outlined just yet, Clark said lunches will likely be eaten in classrooms with possibly a small group in the cafeterias. There will not be a choice bar; rather, staff will serve students their lunch. Those students studying remotely will be given brown bag meals for both lunch and breakfast.
Physical education for students is going to be a challenge, Clark noted; while the fall and some spring months allow for use of school fields for those activities, the winter and early spring months present a challenge.
“As long as we can be outside, a lot of the social distancing is not as much of an issue,” he said. “As the weather gets colder we’re going to have to look at other options.”
Clark added, “There are many scheduling and logistical items that at this point in time we don’t know the answers to yet.”
With either option, Clark, said that, if health restrictions remain in place, students and staff will be screened with temperature checks each day, be required to wear masks or face shields and will see social distancing (6 feet of separation) in classroom settings.
COVID-19 testing would be done with a non-touch instrument, district nurse Sonja Bittner said, either on buses or at the entrances of each school. To assist with screening, parents would be able to attest to their child’s health. A smart phone application is being developed, Clark said, that would see parents verify their child’s health and forward to a building staffer.
District staff would also have to be screened each day, Bittner said.
Students would have to wear masks, though some young students will have difficulty while other students may have health issues that require them to wear a face shield, she said.
In the following weeks, the district will develop and distribute health educational materials for students and parents on guidelines, Bittner said.
“Things may change and we will adapt with those changes,” Clark said. “Students and staff safety is our priority.”
If a student tests positive for COVID-19 they would be required to remain out of school for 10 days after symptoms subside, have two negative tests within 24 hours of returning or have a physician’s note to return to school, or other requirements laid out by state officials, Bittner said.
A positive COVID-19 test may mean that the student’s class be tested, Clark said; county health officials would determine next steps, including contact tracing, he said.
“It is our desire to have every student who desires to come to the school can come (and our) desire that every student who is not comfortable will do online school through the school district,” Clark said.
The district recently opened the Dungeness Virtual School (DVS), designed to retain local students in grades 3-12 who choose online learning over in-person instruction.
There is no limit to the number of students who can sign up for DVS, Maughn said.
Students who wish to sigh up for the online school should do so by the first week of August, Clark said, but students may be able to shift for standard classes to DVS during the school year.
Maughn said Sequim does not have online curriculum available yet for students in grades kindergarten-second grade. She said in-person education for the district’s youngest pupils is critical.
“We want to get kids in those grades … in the building as full time as possible,” she said.
The school district plans on developing and offering at least one more survey this summer, Clark said.
Until then, staff are looking to develop more details for parent and student questions, and post those on the district website at www.sequimschools.org.
A link to the July 8 community forum is posted on the district website, and a video of the forum is expected to be posted on the website during the week of July 13-17.
The school board meets next on July 20.