Stanwood-Camano schools will start all or mostly online after the Snohomish Health District issued a new recommendation Wednesday urging districts to begin school with remote learning.
Health District officials cited rising transmission rates in Snohomish County as a factor in the decision. The move comes as several of the 295 state school districts — such as Seattle, Kent and Mount Vernon — have already announced plans to start school with only or mostly remote learning.
After initially proposing four options for fall — including a hybrid plan with two days of in-person learning — Stanwood-Camano officials announced Wednesday afternoon that the district will now provide a Continuous Learning 2.0 plan for all families beginning Sept. 3.
The revamped online learning option calls for weekly learning plans from teachers, a more rigid schedule, live instruction from teachers via Google Meets and SeeSaw, and some limited face-to-face services in small groups such as students enrolled in special education, English language learners and kindergarteners. Families who enrolled in an Alternative Learning Program at Lincoln Hill or the Saratoga School will be contacted by those schools with further information, district officials said.
The rising level of COVID-19 transmission in Snohomish County is one of a number of factors considered when making decisions for the coming year, according to the Health District.
“While school-age children are not typically a high-risk population for this illness, there are many staff and some students who are particularly vulnerable to severe illness due to COVID-19 because of age or underlying medical conditions,” according to a Health Department news release. “It also is important to remember that even otherwise healthy staff and students can have serious and long-lasting complications from a COVID-19 infection, and that transmission in schools may amplify transmission in the community.”
Recent case investigations in Snohomish County have seen one confirmed case quickly spread through a business or an entire household, health officials noted. When considering resuming in-classroom school in the midst of high community transmission, the goal is to reduce the chances of a student or staff member spreading the disease to friends, family members, neighbors, or others who are more vulnerable, officials said.
The county’s case rates have continued to climb for more than six weeks and the rate is now at nearly 100 cases per 100,000 population. This is close to the rate Snohomish County experienced in March when schools first closed.
“Taking all of this into consideration, I have concluded that reopening schools for in-person classes at this time poses a substantial risk to the school and the surrounding community — especially its medically vulnerable members,” said Dr. Chris Spitters, chief health officer for the Snohomish Health District. “We know that fall is quickly approaching, and plans need to be finalized on how schools will start the academic year. By making this recommendation now, I hope that provides our schools and their staff and families with as much time as possible to prepare for online learning.”
In a letter to school superintendents, Spitters wrote that "even in the context of lower transmission rates and a strong prevention effort, cases and outbreaks would likely still occur in schools. ... Such a level of school-based transmission also would impose considerable demands and instability on school operations and conceivably could outpace our collective efforts to control it."
Spitters wrote that returning to in-person learning together with the ancillary services, social supports and other enhancing activities with current infection rates in the community "may come at an unacceptable cost in human health and further disruption of the learning environment."
Stanwood-Camano School District officials previously unveiled their tentative plan in mid-July, giving parents and their students four options to start the school year: Full-time remote learning, a hybrid option where students go to school two days a week, a hybrid option where students in grades 9-12 go to school one day a week through the district's alternative learning program, or enrolling in the district's homeschool program for students from kindergarten through 10th grade.
The ongoing pandemic has forced districts and educators to choose between two “not great” options, said Summer Stoner, a Bellingham teacher who is president of the WEA Fourth Corner, which serves educators in Island, San Juan, Skagit, Whatcom and parts of Snohomish counties.
While teachers prefer face-to-face interactions with their students, if schools go back to in-person learning, others are likely to be exposed, she said in an interview with Skagit Publishing.
“Some may recover and be fine; some may have lasting health conditions,” she said. “The really scary fact is some will die. I think that is what is weighing heavily on educators and administrators.”
Now, the plan for Stanwood-Camano calls to begin under the Continuous Learning 2.0 plan when school starts Sept. 3. Everett, Mukilteo and Edmonds school districts also announced Wednesday that they would be using fully or mostly remote learning. Other Snohomish County school districts are expected to announced decisions in the next week.
In Stanwood-Camano schools online learning will look different than in spring, but details are still being worked out, said Maurene Stanton, the district executive director of human resources.
"We're addressing some of the concerns our families said were missing during the first round of distance learning," she said during a special School Board study session meeting over the online Zoom platform Wednesday afternoon.
Some of those changes include a more rigid schedule for students and live instruction by teachers, Stanton said.
For example, elementary students will likely have regular online meetings Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday for teachers to play pre-recorded instructional videos, do live instruction and have follow-up discussions with students.
Secondary teachers are planned to provide Google Meets for odd periods (1, 3 and 5) on Mondays and Thursdays and even periods (2, 4 and 6) on Tuesdays and Fridays. Officials said this provides an opportunity for teachers to play pre-recorded instructional videos or do live instruction and have follow-up discussions with students.
The district plans to host another online Zoom meeting for parents in August. Officials said they plan to email invitations to parents on Friday, July 31
"We recognize that this change to a full distance model will create hardships on families needing daycare," district officials said in a statement. "We are working with community partners to support childcare needs. More information will be forthcoming."
Child care centers are operating under strict rules limiting contact, using personal protective equipment, following health and safety protocols and requiring children age 5 and older to wear cloth facial coverings, according to state Health Department guidance.
Online learning will likely continue for at least the first quarter of the school year, officials said. In coordination with guidance from the Snohomish County Health District, district officials said they plan to re-evaluate the need for online learning by Nov. 1 or if conditions change.
When schools first closed due to the pandemic in March, districts were told to prepare for a shutdown that would last about a month. Soon after, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that schools would remain closed for the rest of the school year.
In light of the long-term closure, the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction began outlining guidelines regarding online, or remote, learning plans.
When state Superintendent Chris Reykdal on June 11 announced his initial guidance for schools to reopen, he stated his preference was for as much face-to-face learning as possible, but he gave each of the state’s 295 school districts the leeway they needed to make the best decisions for themselves.
At that time, state health data regarding COVID-19 and its spread showed the number of new cases was trending downward, as were hospitalizations and deaths, Reykdal said in a July 22 video regarding school reopening plans.
That is no longer the case, he said in the video. Now, all of those metrics are on the rise.
“Increasingly, parents and staff are saying they don’t feel safe coming back,” Reykdal said. “Cases are on the rise, hospitalizations are on the rise and likely deaths are on the rise.”
Districts that choose a remote learning model must still work to identify child care options for school-aged children whose guardians don’t have the option to stay home; address gaps in connectivity and technology so each student is able to access their online learning; continue providing school meals for students who need them; and determine which students need additional support and deliver that support, Reykdal said in a news release.
All districts — even those who turn to a remote learning model — need to have daily attendance and student engagements, weekly schedules and assignments and meet the day and hour requirements for learning set by the state, he said.
Meanwhile, the WIAA on Tuesday updated it's plan for high school sports this season to move girls swimming to the spring. However, starting sports relies on the county moving into at least Phase 3, and Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday that the state is indefinitely pausing applications from counties to advance phases in his Safe Start plan.
There are five counties in a modified version of Phase 1, 17 in Phase 2, and 17 in Phase 3, according to the state. Originally, the state Department of Health said each phase will last for a minimum of two weeks.
The Stanwood-Camano School Board will next meet Aug. 4 to consider the plans surrounding school in the fall. Once the board approves a plan, the district must still submit it to the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction for approval at least two weeks before the start of school on Sept. 3.
Schools are facing immensely difficult decisions about how to teach students during this pandemic. The Snohomish Health District Health Officer today provided a recommendation to school leaders that they plan for distance learning to start the school year.https://t.co/XcBHuzmlBs pic.twitter.com/KiJcYLZ58L
— SnoHD (@SnoHD) July 29, 2020