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BURLINGTON — The Burlington-Edison School Board on Monday night approved a home-based learning plan that will have most of the school district’s students learning online in the fall.

The plan — which Superintendent Laurel Browning said would be a mix of online learning and hands-on, at-home assignments — was approved by a vote of 3-2.

Board members Holly Nielsen and David Lowell voted against the plan, saying they would prefer the district start the year in a hybrid model where some students would attend some classes on school campuses several days a week.

“I have a lot of doubt regarding this plan,” Nielsen said during the online meeting.

By approving the plan now, Browning said the district has more time to prepare to make improvements to the online learning model the district used in the spring.

“If we spend our time on this now and do it well and right we’ll be able to pivot back to a hybrid or fully traditional system,” she said.

If the county’s COVID-19 numbers improve or the county is allowed to move into Phase 3 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start plan, the district could have students back in buildings within a few days, Browning said.

According to the district’s plan, teachers and administrators will work from their schools, Assistant Superintendent Bryan Jones said.

The district will also work to identify students who need additional support and will be able to serve them in a one-on-one capacity in the schools.

“We’re really concerned about our students with (individualized education programs) and our life skills population and those that have unique needs,” Jones said. “We want to be able, to the extent possible, provide in-person services as we can. That’s our charge in the next month.”

Nielsen, who has a background in the mental health field, said she does not think that will be enough to support the social and emotional needs of students.

“I am gravely concerned about the mental health of our students and not going back,” she said.

Lowell said that while he did not want the board to be branded as not caring about public health, statistically, children are less likely to contract the disease caused by the novel coronavirus and that Skagit County’s comparatively low death rate — 21 people have died — should weigh in favor of getting kids back into classrooms.

He also cited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that students should return to schools.

“I think we need to do the bold thing and get the kids back to school,” Lowell said.

Board member Roger Howard said he feels the district needed to err on the side of caution.

While children may be less likely to suffer severe health consequences from the disease, they could bring it home to their families and communities.

“Statistics are people,” he said. “I think it’s important we start out slowly with this. I think it’s just too serious of a situation to take lightly.”

Board President Troy Wright said his vote to move to an online system was based on practicality. While neither the state nor Skagit County Public Health has weighed in on the hybrid versus online debate, it is still a possibility that they could — like the Snohomish Health District did last week when it urged school districts in its county to proceed with online plans.

“I think we can debate forever on both sides of the aisle,” Wright said. “If we plan and model around a hybrid system now and we are forced to move away from that, then we’ve now lost our ability to execute any plan well.”

Board member Rich Wesen also voted in favor of the online plan, which Browning said the district will spend the next month finalizing.

— Reporter Kera Wanielista: 360-416-2141, kwanielista@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kera_SVH, facebook.com/KeraReports

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