Students in the Sequim School District will return to all remote learning starting Wednesday, Nov. 25, acting superintendent Jane Pryne announced Monday.
In a district press release sent to parents and guardians on Nov. 23, Pryne outlined a number of reasons for reverting to the all-remote learning model, citing the “safety and security of our students and staff” at the top reason for the change.
In the statement, Pryne wrote, “We, the Board of Directors, the Leadership Team, and I, did not make this decision lightly and understand the hardships it places on our families,” Pryne wrote in the statement.
A resolution passed by Sequim School Board directors on Sept. 8 gave power to the superintendent to move instruction to remote learning or to open it in-person instructors. Pryne said in a Monday interview that she contacted board members individually about the decision.
“They were very supportive,” Pryne said. “No doubt in my mind; (this) is the right decision.”
Cases of COVID-19 continue to rise across Clallam County, health officials note, with Clallam adding 10 cases Sunday to give the county 58 new infections since Nov. 19.
The county has had 423 positives since March with 128 active cases, and the two-week infection rate was listed at 149 per 100,000 as of Sunday.
“To be clear, we are not making this decision based on positive cases within our schools, or because (Clallam County Health Officer) Dr. (Allison) Unthank has said we must,” Pryne wrote. “It is an individual school district decision based on what is best for our students and staff safety and health.”
Pryne said the school district is also experiencing a shortage of substitutes for all positions such as teachers, paraeducators, transportation, food service and custodial/maintenance staffers.
“They just do not want to come in … for a variety of reasons,” Pryne said in the Monday interview.
She said out of a list of 55 substitute teachers, for example, only about 12 were willing to take substitute shifts, and Sequim has principals covering some teaching positions.
The district has in the past two weeks completed integration of its elementary grade level students back into buildings using an “AABB” hybrid model, with half of each grade level in school buildings for in-person instruction on Mondays and Thursdays, and the other half in school classrooms on Thursdays and Fridays.
The majority of students in middle school and high school grade levels, with the exception of some needing specialized instruction, are learning remotely.
As of Wednesday, all students, save for those needing specialized instruction, will be back to a remote learning model.
“We believe transitioning to remote learning will allow us the time needed to return our students and staff to quality in-person learning safely,” the school district press release noted.
“We anticipate kindergarten-fifth grade students returning to in-person learning at the start of second semester, and at a future date, bringing back secondary students.”
The second semester begins Monday, Jan. 26.
Pryne said that date of return is dependent on the status of the area’s COVID-19 health.
“If there is a vaccine and the numbers decrease significantly, then we will come back sooner,” Pryne said.
“(But) unless those things happen, we’ll even need to look at where we are at the second semester,” she said, as the district tries to avoid a situation where it opens and closes multiple times.
“I would like to give us until second semester; if the numbers are still up we won’t (re-open).”
The school district will continue to offer its free meal program. Youths of ages 2-18 in the Sequim area can receive free breakfasts and lunches on Mondays and Wednesdays from 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. at Greywolf Elementary School, 171 Carlsborg Road, or Sequim Middle School, 301 W. Hendrickson Road, or Wednesdays via curbside pickup at the Sequim Central Kitchen on West Fir Street.
The district also distributes meals via bus routes throughout the district. To find the bus route best fits your family, see the chart below two or visit www.sequimschools.org.
The free meal packages include two meals on Mondays and three on Wednesdays.
“That was very important for all of us (to maintain),” Pryne said of the free meal program.
“We know this is a hardship on families.”
Staffers test positive
Sequim schools initially stayed open after two notices of positive COVID-19 tests were reported in the district last week, on Nov 18 and 19.
Pryne cited comments from Unthank, the Clallam County Health Officer, who said the transmission risk is very low when individuals and groups follow protocols currently in place.
On Nov. 18, a note from the Sequim School District parents that a staff member had tested positive for COVID-19, that their contact on Nov. 13 was limited to a few other staffers, and that they and others in contact with the affected staffer have not been back in school buildings since that day.
No students were exposed, the district said in the notice.
“Students are very safe in school when protocols are followed (as they have been here),” Unthank said in an Nov. 18 email.
“There have been no transmission events in our schools. All positive cases of students and staff have been exposed outside of school.”
The school staffers of concern are staying home (“quarantine”) and away from other people until for a required 14 days, school district officials said, per Clallam County Health Department recommendations.
“Even if there has been a transmission of COVID they have been out of school and quarantining and pose no risk of further exposure,” the district said in the Nov. 18 notice.
On Nov. 19, notes were sent to parents and guardians after students and staff were identified s potential close contacts — being within 6 feet or less of someone for 15 minutes or more — to a staffer who had tested positive for COVID-19.
That contact had been on Nov. 16 and Nov. 17.