A sincere thanks to those who were able to join us on the evening of July 28th for the online forum communicating the District’s thinking around back to school planning. Of course, many families were unable to participate, so this update is simply to provide a summary of what was covered in the forum. Ultimately, a complete plan will be shared with Deer Park’s Board of Directors at their meeting on August 1oth for approval.
First and foremost, it was clarified that the online forum was intended to be the first of many updates – both online and otherwise – that the district plans to provide to families as the start of the school year approaches. As you might imagine, it has been difficult to make any solid plans given the constant changes the pandemic has continued to throw at health officials and school leaders this summer, but that being said, we also understand that families need to hear our thinking about the upcoming school year.
One of the key messages shared on Tuesday night was clarity about the things schools control locally and the things over which we (school boards and school leaders) have no control. The simple fact is that if any school district wishes to bring kids back to school, Washington’s State Dept. of Health has put three requirements in place – these mandates are not open for change or modification at the local level:
- Staff and students must wear PPE while at school. With few exceptions, State health officials have mandated that everyone in school must wear either a cloth or paper mask, or some type of face shield. Clearly, there are many questions and issues that must be worked through in regard to this requirement, but the Dept. of Health has not wavered on this mandate.
- Schools must implement and adhere to physical distancing protocols. Classrooms must be arranged in a way that provides a 36 sq. ft. “buffer zone” for each student and we must work to avoid having kids gather in large groupings in and around our buildings (i.e. – assemblies, lunches, commons areas before and after school, as well as any other daily large group activities).
- Schools must implement daily (perhaps weekly) screening protocols. Screening processes will take multiple forms, but the health dept. is asking schools to take additional measures to ensure that we don’t have sick kids or adults in school. This too will be a challenge, but will hopefully provide an additional layer of safety for all students and staff in our buildings.
With those state requirements in mind our district embarked on a return to school planning process guided by the following goals:
- Understanding that we must attend to the health and safety of both our students and our staff, our primary goal is to have ALL students return to our school buildings in a face-to-face model…ideally 5 days a week. If we’re unable to get all students back every day, then we’ll seek to create models that maximize opportunities for in-person instruction.
- Create and provide an effective alternative to our traditional classroom-based program in order to serve families that may not be ready to send their kids back to school in-person.
- Ensure that all plans are adaptable and that all staff are prepared to pivot to whatever educational delivery model is necessary based on changes the pandemic and new requirements force upon us.
With that information and those goals in mind, 65 Deer Park staff members participated in six “return to school work-groups” to discuss key questions and considerations in the following key areas: Physical Distancing, Screening/Health, PPE, Cleaning/Hygiene, Alternate Educational Models (hybrid models), Contingency Planning.
Each of these work-groups met multiple times, producing a good deal of thoughtful and helpful information for Deer Park’s administrative team and school board to consider.
We also reached out to you all, our families, and asked for your thinking about what you were considering for your children this fall in relation to school enrollment. We greatly appreciated the feedback from so many of you – this information was also helpful, but a bit disconcerting at the same time, as it was evident many of our families (39%) had significant concerns about sending their kids back to school. Two reasons were generally cited: opposition to PPE (face-covering) requirements and general concern about the spread of the virus.
All that said, it was with that body of information and feedback, and with the understanding that the numbers of COVID cases were increasing in Spokane County, that we began to craft our plan for the upcoming school year.
As stated earlier, our primary intent was always to serve the greatest number of students in an in-person model, but it became quickly evident that the physical distancing requirements combined with space constraints in many of our buildings would simply not allow us to have all of our students back in classrooms on Sept. 2. We quickly moved to planning for a split/rotating schedule model, an approach that brings kids back to school in two groups – each group attending on different days of the week. The options for this split model can be viewed by clicking on the following link – DPSD Weekly Rotating Schedule Concepts.
By using one of these split schedule options, our aim is to offer in-person instruction for all students two or three days each week, on a rotating basis (that is group “A’ will have two days in-person during week one, but will receive three days of in-person instruction during week two).
While current plans are to implement one of these split/rotating options on Sept. 2, it’s important to note that there’s still a chance the Dept. of Health and the Governor will require schools to move to a fully remote or distance educational model, where kids must learn from home. We are presently working diligently on creating a robust and comprehensive plan for distance learning that will serve all kids. This approach is not ideal for the vast majority of families, teachers, and students, but with that in mind, we’re committed to creating the best plan we can offer a great educational experience to ALL students using every resource we have at our disposal.
Finally, the WIAA’s (Washington Interscholastic Activities Association) plan for athletics in the 2020-2021 school year was shared. The WIAA’s planning processes and their modified sports schedule have been posted on their website, families can access that information using the following link – https://www.wiaa.com/News.aspx?ID=1725&Mon=7&Yr=2020
Again, this is the first of many information updates to come in the days and weeks ahead. Our commitment is to keep families informed as we hear more from officials at our State and Regional Health Departments and as we solidify our approach to a delivery model for the fall. Presently, we are planning to bring a complete plan to Deer Park’s Board of Directors at their regular meeting on Monday, August 10.
A number of thoughtful and important questions were asked during the forum. We are presently compiling and formatting a transcript of the Q & A and plan to add that to this update by Monday, August 3rd. Answers to those questions may provide helpful information to many of you that may have similar questions.
Please feel free to share your thoughts, concerns, and questions with me as we move forward – it’s our desire to serve families and students in the very best ways we can. Your support and your partnership are vital during this incredibly challenging time – perhaps more important than ever. You can email me at email@example.com or call my office at 464-5507.
For our children,
Travis W. Hanson || Superintendent