Some local students could start in-person learning Oct. 5, the Stanwood-Camano School District announced Friday.
The change from mostly remote learning to a hybrid plan is based on new recommendations from Dr. Chris Spitters, chief health officer for the Snohomish Health District. Based largely on improving COVID-19 data, Spitters recommended to Snohomish County school superintendents that schools could begin to reopen in a hybrid model, beginning first with younger students.
Then, if local health metrics remain constant or improve, Stanwood-Camano schools plan to welcome back students in kindergarten through third grade into their school buildings for face-to-face hybrid model beginning Oct. 5. Students in fourth and fifth grades would begin hybrid learning Oct. 26.
"We had thought that it might take longer to move to hybrid," said Maurene Stanton, the district executive director of human resources. "But we're seeing the trend going down, and now we're calibrating and planning for hybrid."
The COVID-19 infection rate has fallen for about two straight months to 48.3 cases per 100,000 Snohomish County residents, down from a summer high mark of nearly 100 cases per 100,000 residents but still above the target of 25 infections per 100,000 people to advance phases in the state's Safe Start plan.
Spitters recommends school districts wait at least three weeks to see if virus transmission increased because of the Labor Day holiday weekend.
"If at that time COVID-19 activity in the school and community remains stable or improving and a review of the considerations set forth above is favorable, then proceeding with incremental returns of elementary school students to in-person learning at your discretion is acceptable to the Health District," Spitters told superintendents.
Stanwood-Camano students started school online on Sept. 3. However, some students who are among special populations — English language learners, students with internet connectivity issues and kindergartners — are receiving in-person learning.
Elementary students in remote learning are taking classes online Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, with an emphasis on English language arts and math. Secondary students are gathering using Google Meet for odd periods (1, 3 and 5) on Mondays and Thursdays and even periods (2, 4 and 6) on Tuesdays and Fridays. Teachers are using class time to play pre-recorded videos, do live instruction or use a combination of both. Teachers are available Wednesdays for parents and students to ask questions.
The hybrid model calls for students going into school buildings two days a week, allowing classes to be split in half for smaller groups of students in rooms. Everyone is screened upon entry, masks are worn all the time, and other social distancing and hygiene guidelines are followed.
Families can choose to stay in remote learning, Stanton said. The district plans to survey families starting Monday to see how many would choose the hybrid option.
Spitters recommends waiting three weeks after bringing back groups of students to see if local COVID-19 rates remain the same or improve before welcoming the next group of students back to school.
Stanton said the district plans to follow the guidelines, which means middle school students could return in late November and high school students about three weeks later if conditions don't worsen.
In addition to planning for safety protocols with a more complicated middle and high school schedule, the Snohomish Health District finds that teenage students have higher rates of COVID-19 than younger children, are probably more likely to spread COVID-19 if infected, and as a group, appear to face fewer challenges in remote learning, Spitters said.
"Given these factors, the Health District recommends middle and high schools continue to operate remotely,” he wrote to superintendents.
The Health District also continues to recommend against in-person extracurricular activities, such as sports.
Meanwhile, the district plans to start other programs in-person, including: the ASSIST program at Utsalady Elementary on Sept. 21, special education resource programs on Sept. 23, the PBS program at Elger Bay Elementary on Oct. 1 and the preschool program at Stanwood Elementary on Oct. 1.