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Remote control: In-home learning for students

Snohomish Health District changes mind of hybrid model

 
Series: Coronavirus | Story 255

Last updated 8/5/2020 at 8pm

To say the lives of The Edmonds School District students, parents, and caregivers have changed over the last five months would be stating the obvious.

Day care? After-school activities? Remote learning? Virtual this and virtual that, including the class of 2020's high school graduation?

Seniors at Edmonds-Woodway and Meadowdale high schools will be joining their graduated classmates in remoteness, as the district has changed course on last month's hybrid home-school model for the 2020-21 school year.

The announcement July 29 was not unexpected: Students will not return to in-person classes this fall. All instruction will be conducted remotely when school starts Wednesday, Sept. 9.

Superintendent Gustavo Balderas said the decision was based in part on the recommendation from Snohomish Health District.

"Before in-person learning can take place, we must ensure the safety of our students and staff," Balderas said in a post on the district website. "With the increasing health risks surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, we just do not see a way we can safely reopen our school buildings at this time.

"Taking learning online presents challenges that districts will need to face," said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal. "The methods of teaching and learning that were implemented across the state this spring will need to improve substantially.

"Every student and family needs to be better engaged and supported in student learning as well as the other supports that our schools provide."

The local district's decision, Balderas said, and was based on a number of factors, including:

• Snohomish County Health District recommended schools not reopen in-person at the start of the school year.

• Increasing number of COVID-19 cases in Snohomish County, with the latest numbers indicating almost 100 cases per 100,000 people living in our county. This rate is nearly identical to the rate of cases we saw when schools first closed in March.

• This is the sixth consecutive increase in the case rate, which calculates a two-week period.

• The current rate of infection is 4.5 times what it was in late May and early June.

• 20% of district staff identify as being in the high risk category for contracting the virus.

• New research estimates there is a 37% chance that at least one person in a gathering of 50 people in Snohomish County is positive with COVID-19.

"We realize our decision not to have in-person learning opportunities at this time extends the hardship, uncertainty and equity gaps already imposed on many of our families," Balderas said. "Please know we are working to address learning needs, child care and other impacts of this difficult choice."

Requirements

All school districts this year, including Edmonds and others providing online learning, will need to have weekly schedules for each student, daily engagement or assigned work for each student, and requirements for daily attendance, said Reykdal.

In addition, all districts must meet the number of instructional days and hours required in state law, consistent with the State Board of Education's rules on the definition of an instructional hour.

"Of course, we'd much rather be In person with our students because that brings so much joy," said Andi Nofziger-Meadows, president of the 1,600-member Edmonds Education Association union. "And we know that kids learn better when they're with us in person. But we're also incredibly grateful that the new superintendent and the school board has made the decision early to put safety of kids and staff as a priority."

Nofziger-Meadows said she understands concerns that remote learning will be hard for families. But she also hopes the community will prioritize getting kids back into school by taking the actions they need to reduce community transmission.

This includes following the governor's guidelines by wearing masks, practicing social distancing and also, for example, not attending large bridal showers while avoiding backyard barbecues.

"That's my biggest hope," she said. "That the community will band together to make (reducing transmission) a priority."

Timeline for possible return to in-person learning

When it is safe for students and staff, the district said it would offer in-person learning. But a fully remote learning option would still be available for families.

"We want to be as transparent with our families as possible when it comes to our strategic planning for in-person learning," Balderas said. "At this time, we plan to do any switch to in-person learning at the start of each new quarter or semester. We would only allow for in-person learning if we receive guidance from our local and state health departments that it is safe.

"Our current timeline is based on the logistics of returning to in-person learning for our teachers, students and families, and other critical operational and staffing processes needed for us to be able to safely reopen our buildings. We are committed to providing ongoing updates as we approach each possible transition date for in-person learning to allow for enough notice for families to plan for any changes."

Here are the approximate dates for a possible return to in-person learning. Health authorities and COVID-19 rates will ultimately help with decisions on dates.

Approximate dates to transition to in-person learning, if it is safe to do so:

• Nov. 12, 2020

• Feb. 3, 2021

• April 14, 2021

Other key dates for students and families:

• Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020 - First day of school

• Thursday, June 24, 2021 - Last day of school

The district says continuous learning 2.0, which is what it's calling remote schooling, "will be better than in the spring."

"We know continuous learning in the spring was not perfect, and in fact, left many families frustrated," Balderas said.

"There was no playbook for what schools had to do when they were told to close their doors and immediately switch to a remote learning model. Never in my life would I have imagined having to close school buildings in such a drastic manner. However, we've learned and we've listened and we are working diligently to make the remote learning experience better."

The district said it is committed to providing a high quality remote learning experience for its students, teachers and families in the following ways:

• Streamlining digital resources: We plan to offer one digital platform for our 3rd through 12th grade students. Our pre-k through 2nd grade students will have a separate digital platform that we believe is more suitable for younger students. We will share more specifics with families, including how to use these platforms, in the coming weeks.

• Providing clear and consistent expectations: The district wants its students, families, and staff to have a clear understanding of expectations for learning. "Students in our advisory group for the planning of Reopening Edmonds Schools 2020 told us they want more day-to-day structure," Balderas said. "With that in mind, we will continue to be flexible for our families and meet them where they are when it comes to remote learning."

• Focusing on providing a sense of belonging in a virtual environment: The district said it wants to have more opportunities for students to connect with their classmates and their teachers, which could include more virtual small group activities.

Support for students and families

The district said it recognizes that distance learning cannot fully meet the needs of all its students. Balderas said the district has a group working on the best ways the district can provide additional support when it comes to students receiving special education services, English learners, students experiencing homelessness, and other needs.

"This is such a new space for us all to be in," said Nofziger-Meadows. "We don't know how safe It is to open up schools for in-person learning. But I feel good about things. The district is about safety precautions, putting them in place for when we do come back.

"But with community transmission is so high, the likelihood of starting school and then having to close school – the families would be put in so much disarray. Quarantining, going back and forth between opening and closing would be so much more disruptive than waiting to open for in-person learning until we have a transmission threshold to make it more reasonable to return to school."

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