With Clallam County’s overall COVID-19 infection rate decreasing in recent weeks, Sequim school leaders are keeping an eye on opening its school doors to at least some of its students.
Sequim schools superintendent Dr. Rob Clark said several students with special needs — about 30 of them — will be the first students on campus on Sept. 28 and, if coronavirus rates stay below the 75 cases per 100,000 threshold countywide, the district could start bringing back students at some grade levels beginning Oct. 5.
“The first kids on campus will be a week from today; then we’re going to move slowly but surely,” Clark told school board directors Monday night.
“I’m not sure we’re going to be fully ready by then (Oct. 5), so I’m not setting a date,” he said.
According to the Clallam County Health Department as of Sept. 21, Clallam’s COVID-19 rate of infection in the last 14 days is 17 (per 100,000 population) — putting the county in the “low” rating of 10-25. As of that date, Clallam has been below the “high” threshold (75-plus) for 21 days and under the “moderate” threshold (25-75) for nine days.
School district leaders previously noted that the countywide rate would have to be at “moderate” or lower levels for at least 28 consecutive days to start bringing students back into classrooms.
Clark said the district is going to be deliberate in its approach to re-opening its buildings.
“Our goals haven’t changed, in the sense that while we want to meet in kids brick-and-mortar (rooms),” he said Monday. “Health and safety of our staff and students and parents and the community is number one. While it’s exciting that our numbers our down … I think that’s its naïve to think they are going to remain down for the next eight months. We need to have our virtual meeting platforms perfected … (and) if we have to back and do virtual for a few weeks, we can do that.”
Clark said he hopes to have a document articulating the school district’s re-opening plans on the website (sequimschools.org) by the end of this week.
If and when students return to physical classrooms this school year, Sequim schools will be on an “AA/BB” hybrid school schedule that sees students divided into two groups: each student will attend classes in-person two days a week (Monday-Tuesday or Thursday-Friday), with remote learning the other three weekdays.
Clark told board directors that enrollment district-wide is down between 85-100 students, with a significant drop in expected kindergarten students. Last year was a low year for Sequim schools he said, with about 175 kindergartners. In early counts this September, that number is at about 155.
Many parents are opting for a homeschooling situation for their young students for now, Clark said.
As the district opens up classrooms for in-person instruction, he said, he expects enrollment to climb as well.
“I do think this is an elementary, childcare situation,” Clark said. “(Kindergarten) would be the first grade we bring back. Hopefully parents would reconsider the homeschooling.”