School bus

Students at the elementary level are already back to in-person learning within the district. The district is planning for the middle school students to join them Feb. 8.

Students at Anacortes Middle School will go back to in-person learning next week as planned, but high school students will have to wait a bit longer, the Anacortes School District announced Monday.

AMS is opening its doors to its first group of students on Feb. 8. Students will be split into two groups, with each group attending school for a full day of learning two days a week.

Students at the high school level were expecting to go back at the same time. Now, their return date is Feb. 22 while the Anacortes School District works on hiring additional nursing staff to help with contact tracing.

The new staff guidance came last week from the Skagit County Health Department, according to a press release Monday afternoon.

“A phased-in approach will ensure most possible success to in-person learning for all our students and our staff,” Superintendent Justin Irish said in the release. “We will continue to follow public health guidance. They have received our plans to return more students to in-person learning.”

Phasing students in means the district can be sure the system works before adding more students, according to the release.

Staff at Anacortes Middle School are going over safety and sanitization protocols this week to prepare for the return of students.

“In all of this, our focus is safety first,” AMS Principal Patrick Harrington said. “I want people to feel comfortable being in school.”

Everything needs to be addressed, including size and layout of classrooms, what the lunchroom looks like, what coming in and out of the school doors looks like and even safe travel in the hallways.

Students will split into two groups this year. Each group will go to school for full days two days a week, so only half the students as normal will be in the school at a time, Harrington said.

The hallways are split down the middle, with directional markers to keep students separated from each other, he said.

“We are trying to teach rituals and routines that are not typical,” Harrington said.

The school will still have its normal six-period day and normal offerings, though, he said. Students will still be able to take gym, electives and music, though those classes will look different than normal.

Harrington said that he knows how important being back at the school building is for students, not just in terms of their academic learning but for their social and emotional well-being.

“That’s my No. 1 thing,” he said.

While the hope is to get the students back in the buildings to finish the school year, there is no guarantee. There are some instances when students would need to return to remote learning, at least temporarily, Irish said in an email last week.

Those factors would be:

• An outbreak of two or more people testing positive for COVID-19 at one school,

• Not enough staff at work on a single day due to either illness or a required quarantine,

• A surging number of cases or hospitalization in the community,

• Too many close contacts to properly follow contact tracing,

• An inability to meet the requirements in the state’s K-12 guidance.

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