(BRANDON HANSEN/Chewelah Independent)
HYBRID LEARNING: Health district gives go-ahead for Chewelah to bring students back into classroom for some limited in-person learning…
The Chewelah School District announced last week that it would begin employing a hybrid model of learning on Oct. 13 and slowly rolling it out to all grades. While not “back-to-normal” schooling, it will get students back into school buildings and is the next step in the area’s reopening after the COVID-19 lockdown that hit in March.
“For those hoping for COVID-19 to go away or normal business, it doesn’t look like that will happen soon,” Chewelah School District Superintendent Rich McFarland said in a video to school district staff last week.
The Chewelah School District will begin its hybrid model on Oct. 13 with half of the students grades 1-3 going to Gess Elementary and the other half going the next day. Per the NE Tri-County Health District guidelines, students will remain in cohorts and go to school on alternating, two days-a-week scheduling.
In planning for reopening, the administration, school board, medical staff, teachers and classified staff met to discuss the different aspects of what reopening meant for the district. Health and safety were of the highest concern with many measures including adequate protective gear, proper protocol and other measures to ensure what McFarland called “the safest possible environment.”
“In talking with health district officials, they described each safety measure like a slice of swiss cheese,” McFarland said. “One measure will block some of the transmission of the virus, but there are holes in the measures. One you start layering them together – masks, social distancing, keeping students in cohorts and maintaining smaller numbers, all those measures are systematically reducing the risk for both students and staff.”
After the early grades go back to school, on Oct. 20, the district would bring back Kindegarten and the rest of the elementary and junior high grades. On Nov. 3, the high school students would be added to the hybrid model. Again, all students will be going to school two days a week on alternating schedules. They would continue to do remote learning on the other days and there would be no school on Mondays regardless.
Masks will be required to be worn by students and staff.
“I just really want to thank our principals, our directors, Nurse Cassie, Jason, elementary and secondary teachers as well as our classified folks for this tremendous undertaking with how we do school,” McFarland said. “This has not been easy, and it is still not easy. We are going forward with the best model moving forward to help our kids.”
The NE Tri-County Health District provided guidelines to area school districts so that they could move into a hybrid model on or after Oct. 5.
Students will have to be screened before the school day which includes parents filling out a piece of paper saying they have no symptoms and they did a temperature check. They must also have this piece of paper to get on the school bus. If a school bus driver sees a student is exhibiting symptoms at the bus stop, they will not be picked up and parents will be contacted.
For breakfast and lunchtime, Gess Elementary students will be eating in their classroom while students at JJSHS will be eating outside or in the cafeteria while spread out. Students may also eat in their car, alone.
If a student is seen exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, they will go to an isolation space – which in the high school is the band room – and parents will be called. They will be sent home and asked to self-isolate for ten days or will be allowed back to school if they get a negative COVID-19 test. If a test comes back positive, the school will contact trace close contacts in school. Tri-County Health will do contact tracing outside of school
If the symptom is something that can be explained as not COVID-19, someone has a runny nose because of allergies, then exceptions can be made.
A close contact is someone who has been in the six-foot space of a positive case for more than 15 minutes. While close contacts will be alerted, the identity of positive cases will not be revealed to protect their identity.
“We have to ensure people’s safety and their right to privacy,” McFarland said. “We will not reveal if it was a student or a staff member who had a positive case.”
Several measures around school buildings will be taken to keep students six feet apparent both outside of the school and inside. This includes moving desks to six feet apart. Schools are also asking parents not to drop off their kids early at school because there is no gathering area for them before school starts. Also if parents can drive their kid to school rather than have them ride the bus that is preferred.
Still bus routes will occur and due to the alternating cohorts, students will be distanced on the bus and windows will be open.
Students at JJSHS will not be using lockers and will be asked to carry needed materials in their backpack.
For recess, there will be several different areas sectioned off for kids to play in at a distance. This could possibly be a time where a kid can remove their mask for a break.
After holding a town hall meeting on Monday via Zoom, officials were able to answer specific questions about the reopening plan. One issue is the district currently has a low number of substitute teachers. Some subs are retired teachers and are being cautious returning during the pandemic. McFarland said that those with a bacherlors degree could become a sub and get an emergency certification to help bolster the sub ranks.
If you have more questions about specifics of the Chewelah School District reopening plan, you can call (509) 685-6800 x1002 or go to their website at www.chewelah.k12.wa.us/.
The Chewelah Independent has also uploaded the entire reopening plan to our website at http://chewelahindependent.com/chewelahs-reopening-plan-for-hybrid-learning/
Since the reopening plan is sixty pages, you can imagine that it is much more in-depth than this article, so check out the reopening plan for further details.