Camas school board OKs remote reopening plan

Superintendent says goal is to transition students back to classrooms ‘as soon as possible’

Camas students will soon return to a school year unlike any other thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, the Camas school board unanimously approved the district’s 2020-21 reopening plan, which calls for all students to begin the year in a remote-learning environment.

Students are scheduled to return to school on Sept. 1.

Camas School District Superintendent Jeff Snell told school board members Monday that district leaders are regularly meeting with county public health experts to keep track of the most recent updates on COVID-19 data.

The district’s goal, Snell said, is to transition into a blend of remote and in-person learning “as soon as possible.”

“When we talk with (Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County’s public health director), we will talk about trends in the county and about when to bring students back,” Snell said, adding that district leaders will ask Melnick for guidance on minimizing risks to students, families, staff and the entire community once Camas schools transition to a blended learning environment.

District administrators, staff and teachers have been meeting throughout the summer to come up with a reopening plan that would address some of the concerns shared by students, teachers and families in the spring, when COVID-19 shut down schools without much warning.

“We want to take the lessons we learned in the spring and apply to our models moving forward,” Snell said. “We want students back on campus, but we must minimize the risk to students and staff. We are seeing examples now where schools (in other parts of the country) have come back (to in-classroom learning), and an outbreak happens, and the school has to close again. We want to avoid that.”

Keeping consistency for students, families

Snell said some of the decisions that went into the reopening plan approved Monday are designed to provide consistency and structure for students, staff and families facing a school year unlike any other.

For instance, despite the remote-learning school year start, students and teachers are still expected to begin the school day at normal times — typically 8 a.m. for most Camas elementary schools and around 8:45 or 9 a.m. for middle and high schools.

“This provides consistency for students and families,” Snell said. “And it defines the work day for staff, so we have that structure in place (when the district transitions to a blended or fully in-person model).”

The district has also selected two distance-learning platforms — Seesaw for students in grades K-2 and Google Classroom for those in grades 3-12 — to keep students’ remote-learning experience consistent throughout the district.

“We also will use ParentSquare to push out weekly schedules and have all communication come to one place for parents,” Snell said. “(Parents) are getting a lot of communication, so we want to streamline that as much as possible.”

In late July, Snell joined other Clark County school superintendents calling for an online-only start to the 2020-21 school year. The decision, they said, was based on the most current COVID-19 data in Clark County and recommendations from local public health experts.

One week later, Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced his recommendations for Washington school reopenings and said the state “strongly recommends” distance learning and the cancellation or postponing of all in-person extracurricular activities for counties considered “high risk,” with more than 75 cases per 100,000 residents over a two-week period.

Snell said Monday that the latest data showed Clark County was less than 1 percent away from that threshold at 74.3 cases per 100,000 people over a two-week period.

“That puts us right in the moderate (category) but almost to the high level of activity.”

The state recommends that “moderate counties,” or those with between 25 and 75 cases per 100,000 residents over a 14-day period, implement distance learning and “consider expanding in-person learning to elementary students” and “over time, consider adding hybrid in-person learning for middle or high school students if limited COVID transmission occurs in schools.”

Once a county has entered the “low” category with fewer than 25 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents over a two-week period, the state encourages full-time, in-person learning for all elementary students and a blended in-person/remote model for middle and high school students.

The state guidelines closely mimic the Camas district’s original plan, released earlier this summer, which called for five-days-a-week in-classroom learning for younger students, a mix of in-person and remote learning for students in middle and high school.

Snell said the district’s schools have enough capacity to accommodate six feet of distance between elementary school students, but do not have enough space at the upper grade levels.

Once the district transitions into a blended model, students in middle and high school will be in cohorts, with each cohort attending in-person classes two days a week and distance-learning the rest of the week.

All of the district’s in-person models call for heightened cleaning inside school buildings and will require face coverings and physical distancing of at least six feet.

A ‘day in the life’

To give the school board a better idea of what students will experience at the start of the 2020-21 school year, Snell walked board members through a “day in the life” of a Camas third-grader in a remote learning environment.

The beginning of the day would likely begin with an online class meeting with students and their teacher all logged in. The teacher would help students prepare for the school day before taking the day’s first “brain break,” which encourages students to step away from their screens, move around, maybe get some fresh air and take a short break. Then, students would settle in for the first synchronous (education that happens in real time, albeit virtually) learning block before taking a second “brain break.” They return to a recorded, or asynchronous, learning block — something that gives families flexibility as students can return to this pre-recorded lesson at their convenience –before heading to lunch. Around 12:45 p.m., the student comes back to a community learning session, perhaps a virtual music class, before reflecting on the day in a real-time, virtual meeting with their teacher and classmates.

“There is a lot going on there,” Snell said after presenting board members with an idea of what a typical remote-learning day might look like for Camas students.

Snell added that the district is trying to duplicate the types of normal breaks students would experience in an in-classroom environment and avoid forcing students to sit down for more than six hours’ worth of Zoom meetings.

He told the board members to think about their own virtual work meetings.

“If you’re logging into a new Zoom meeting every 50 minutes, it gets challenging,” Snell said.

He added that the “asynchronous” learning model, which allows students to return to recorded lessons and videos whenever it is most convenient to their schedule and as many times as necessary mimics the way many people, especially teens, learn today — looking up YouTube instructional videos, pausing and repeating the information until we have figured it out.

“I think it will be a game-changer when we come back to campus,” Snell said of the district’s shift toward more instructional videos created by Camas educators to supplement in-person learning.

For students, parents and community members hoping to better understand some of the finer details in the district’s reopening plan — including attendance requirements and grading systems — Snell said the district would email the plan to families and post the plan and related videos to the district’s website (camas.wednet.edu) this week.

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