The Sequim School District board of directors unanimously voted on March 16to suspend normal policy under the various emergency declarations made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, granting superintendent Dr. Rob Clark emergency powers in running the district.
The suspension of policy grants Clark the ability to make a greater scope of decisions and actions without having to first seek the approval of the board during the period of Washington state school closures mandated by Gov. Jay Inslee, which will last until at least April 24.
The suspension of policy ends when school resumes or on June 19; board directors voted to approve as the firm end date for the school year no matter how long the closure lasts, per direction from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
If the emergency situation is not resolved yet by that time, the policy suspension declaration can be renewed by the board.
In addition, after Inslee updated his gatherings prohibition to limit them to 10 people or less, Clark has decided that after March 18 there will be two days where the only personnel at schools will be himself, assistant superintendent Jennifer Maughan, key district office personnel, building principals, assistant principals and their key office staff.
Teacher presence will be limited to getting their rooms in order for the closure if they feel like they need to.
After March 20, Clark said, only key district office personnel, maintenance staff and custodial staff will be at work in the district, with the exception of what staff are needed to run food distribution programs.
As situations change and develop, Clark said that some staff could be recalled for specific tasks. For now, the childcare option that Inslee mandated that schools provide will be coordinated through the Sequim unit of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula, which Clark said the district will actively support as able.
Clark added that all district employees, including those earning an hourly wage rather than a salary, will continue to earn their regular wages during the closure, though Clark emphasized the use of “regular” in his explanation.
“Wages for extra activities like trips or after school activities can’t be paid as they won’t be happening,” Clark explained. “For activity stipends like sports coaching or other things, we’ll be able to pro-rate those based on what’s already happened. If nothing’s been done yet, though, there’s nothing to pay for.”
Students will still be able to learn during the six-week closure, with many students sent home with large packets of work to get through over the next six weeks, and others given instructions for online learning opportunities.
“We’re going to be creating some more activities and opportunities for our students during this time,” Clark said, adding that such opportunities would be communicated to families as available.
Students at Helen Haller Elementary and Greywolf Elementary were also given a chance to check out several books in order to keep reading while they’re at home.
Of course, Clark doesn’t expect students to work all the time.
“Spring break is coming up,” Clark told the school board, “and spring break is spring break. We’re not going to make anyone work during that doesn’t need to.”
On Monday, March 16, friends and fellow seniors at Sequim High School wondered what COVID-19 could impact next.
“As a senior, you don’t know if we’re going to have graduation or prom,” said Alissa Lofstrom on her lunch break in the school’s courtyard.
She and her friends felt sad for people losing out on sports seasons and other milestones for their last year of high school.
“It’s just not knowing that’s tough,” fellow senior Ava Keehn said.
“I know where it’s coming from but it’s throwing everyone off,” Lofstrom said.
Several school board members mentioned during the March 16 meeting that they felt like seniors were getting robbed of what’s supposed to be the best few months of their high school lives, and they they hope to find a way to ease that feeling for them.
Clark also mentioned that there would be specific measures taken with juniors and seniors to make sure that they received the credits they need for graduation.
He added after the meeting that as long as school is reopened by then, he’s going to try and make sure that senior prom and graduation happen “as normally as possible.”