Stanwood-Camano School District announced Thursday afternoon it will suspend in-person learning during the first two weeks in January after winter break.
In-person learning will continue in December until the break.
"We meet regularly with Snohomish Health District and Island County Health, we meet with our district nurses, and we look at people's behavior," said Maurene Stanton, the Stanwood-Camano School District executive director of human resources. "And we’re worried people won't adhere to the current guidelines."
District officials said they met with local health authorities and risk management experts before deciding to take a two-week "exposure pause" after the winter break.
The pause will mean district students who were attending in-person — K-3 hybrid, small groups and special education programs — will engage in distance learning off-campus from Jan. 4-15. They will not be allowed on school premises.
The plan calls for hybrid students to return Jan. 19, following the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Jan. 18.
The School District started the school year Sept. 10 with kindergartners and other high-needs groups from preschool to grade 12 attending in-person. Then the district brought in students in first through third grades on Oct. 5 for a hybrid plan — in-person two days a week and remote learning on the other days.
Rising COVID-19 case counts locally, as well as across the state and nation, are evidence of an increased risk this winter, school officials said.
Stanwood has recorded 111 new cases in the past two weeks. On Camano, there were 35 new cases in the past two weeks.
In Snohomish County, the COVID-19 infection rate increased for the 11th straight week to 428 infections per 100,000 residents from Nov. 22-Dec. 5. The Stanwood Zip code has an infection rate of more than 500 cases per 100,000 people.
The infection rate in Island County has increased to 187.5 cases per 100,000 people, according to the state Department of Health. Statewide, the rate is now at 449.2 new cases per 100,000 residents.
"A delay is expected to lessen the impact of potential exposures of COVID-19 due to holiday events," district officials said in a statement.
Superintendent Jean Shumate has had numerous meetings with fellow school leaders in Snohomish and Island counties and the two-week pause in January "seems to be the direction superintendents are going," Stanton said.
The Stanwood-Camano teachers and staff are supportive of this move, she said.
Also in mid-January, the district will reexamine plans to expand in-person instruction to grades 4-5.
"We would still like to bring back fourth- and fifth-graders as soon as possible," Stanton said. "When it's safe to bring them back, we will be doing that."
Stanton added that the district has not recorded a COVID-19 outbreak in a school.
"We really believe the safety guidelines and strategies were using — masks, staying home if sick, social distancing, etc. — seem to be working," Stanton said.
Other school districts throughout the region, such as neighboring Arlington, have adopted a similar plan.
The Snohomish Health District has recommended schools bring high-needs children and K-3 students into buildings under a hybrid model, citing schools that follow safety protocols for younger children — who are less of a risk to transmit the virus than older students — have not been a source of major outbreaks.
NEW: Stanwood-Camano School District will pause K-3 in-person hybrid learning plans during the first two weeks of January. In-person to continue in December for K-3. pic.twitter.com/7cH3nsn00x— Evan Caldwell (@Evan_SCN) December 11, 2020
ICYMI: As COVID-19 cases, rates, hospitalizations and deaths increase, the current pause on certain activities has been extended until January 4, 2021. For specifics: https://t.co/PvVFftRp9J. For info about how you can help eradicate the virus: https://t.co/KZpMGKUsAA pic.twitter.com/dITgh6HI0f— Snohomish County DEM (@SnoCo_DEM) December 9, 2020