Only a handful of school districts in the state are aiming to hold school in person this fall. One of them is Kittitas School District in Central Washington, near Ellensburg.
The Kittitas school board voted to offer in-person school because almost 70 percent of families said they want that. But the most recent county data show an average of 105 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people over 14 days. The Washington Department of Health recommends that schools do remote learning if the 14-day average exceeds 75 cases per 100,000 people.
So now the district is submitting a petition to county health officials to explain how they can return to school buildings safely, said Mike Nollan, superintendent of the Kittitas School District.
“First of all, we have to be able to show that in the classroom and in our buildings, that we can physically distance 6 feet,” he said. “And then just showing our policies and our procedures on cloth face coverings — how we’re going to do that, how we’re going to enforce that.”
The district of about 660 students has one part-time nurse right now. Nollan said the district likely will bump that part-time nurse up to full-time and bring on another part-time nurse.
In Jefferson County on the Olympic Peninsula, several districts are planning to offer a hybrid model of some in-person school and some remote learning. In the Port Townsend School District, which has about 1,200 students, elementary and middle school students will have the option to come back to school in person a couple of days each week.
Most high school students will do remote learning because it’s more difficult to bring them back in person, given the variety of classes they take and public health requirements to limit mingling, said Sarah Rubenstein, communications director for the Port Townsend district.
“It’s very difficult to keep kids cohorted all day long together because high school students don’t take all the same classes,” she said. “Even a freshman is not taking all those classes together. So to keep them together without mixing across cohorts is quite difficult to do.”
Elementary and middle school students will be assigned to 15-person cohorts and will stay with those same students. Families also will have the option to keep their kids home and do remote learning.
Jefferson County has had 59 positive cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began and no deaths from the illness. Kittitas County has had 448 cases and 20 deaths.
Nollan said he had originally recommended that the district do remote learning for the fall, but the school board wanted to follow the wishes of families. So to make in-person school possible, he brought in a ventilation expert to examine air flow in the buildings. He said staff also will add arrows and markings in halls to prevent crowding.
But he said ultimately getting kids back to school will require people to be sensible in the rest of their lives. Even if the district gets the green light from health officials, a spike in cases could mean that schools have to switch to distance learning.
“That’s one of the things we really want to emphasize with our community is that if you want your students back, you have got to be careful on the outside,” he said.