Washougal School District leaders are confident students will have a rewarding educational experience this fall despite the fact that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has postponed a return to in-classroom learning.
Some Washougal parents, however, disagree.
During the WSD board of directors meeting held Aug. 11, two parents expressed concerns about the district’s decision to begin the 2020-21 school year online.
Washougal resident Lisa Knapp, a mother of two Cape Horn-Skye Elementary School students, told the school board she thought the education her children received in the spring, when the district was forced to go remote due to the COVID-19 outbreak, was “extremely poor.”
“I don’t want to put them through that again,” Knapp stated in a written comment to the board. “My son, a first-grader, did show-and-tell three times a week online with his class and was offered a packet of worksheets that his teacher distributed but did not reference in the show-and-tell. There was no teaching. It was pathetic. We supplemented it with other materials.”
Knapp said she believes district leaders based their decision to postpone in-classroom learning “on the powerful lobby of educators and fear.”
Washougal resident Ryon Morrison suggested that the district should open its schools to younger students and allow those who want or need to participate in online instruction to do so. Otherwise, the district will have to “accept the consequences of mass un-enrollments as parents choose to homeschool in lieu of ‘iPad learning.’”
“What seems to baffle me is how my son can go to a private, for-profit daycare and receive necessary education and social interactions with zero instances of COVID-19, and yet our kids can’t go to a tax-payer funded school,” Morrison wrote in their letter to the board. “What I don’t understand is how our high-schoolers can work at places like the local Safeway for six-plus hours a day, subjected to hundreds of unique interactions each shift, yet remain ’rona free. Why can’t our kids go back to school?”
School board member Jim Cooper said the district is following the recommendations set forth by Clark County Public Health, and that “the health and safety of the children and the staff and the community are paramount.”
“I empathize with the parents and students who are impacted here and everywhere else in the country. They’re all struggling to adapt to a new world,” Cooper said. “But until we have rapid, effective, accurate testing, we’re going to be stuck in this situation. Unfortunately all the magic thinking in the world can’t change biology.”
WSD board director Cory Chase acknowledged the parents’ concerns, but said the district’s decision “to not take the easy way out” last spring provided district leaders and educators with a foundation to prepare for an online return to school this fall.
“I have heard a lot of negative experiences about how things happened in the spring. I think it’s important to understand the context of how all of that evolved, and that all of it kind of transpired rapidly,” Chase said. “We knew it was going to be tough on everybody, but we knew it was the right thing to do to try to stay engaged with kids through the end of the school year. It wasn’t perfect, and not everybody knocked it out of the park, but there were a lot of people that did.”
District leaders have ‘high expectations’ for new platform
The district’s “impactEd” remote learning model will feature teacher-planned lessons, activities and classes; “office hours” for students, parents and teachers to meet; project-based learning opportunities; virtual tutoring centers; and a homework “hotline.”
The platform is part of the district’s reopening plan board members approved on Aug. 11.
“We are going to offer a robust, interesting, flexible, yet structured process,” WSD Superintendent Mary Templeton said during the Aug. 11 meeting. “I’m excited and passionate about the improvements that we’ve made.”
Students will follow daily class schedules designed to mimic their routines during a “typical” school day, engaging in a combination of synchronous (real-time) and asynchronous (independent) learning.
“There will be flexibility for families, but this also provides some structure, and lets students know there is an expectation for six hours of learning during the day,” Renae Burson, the district’s assistant superintendent, said on Aug. 11. “We will have some lessons that are synchronous, where the teachers are (teaching) at a specific time. But other lessons are asynchronous, where students can go back, review the lessons, have access to them at more than one time and decide how many times they need to view that lesson and when to do that work.”
Washougal school administrators hope their decision to pare down their number of learning applications (Google Classroom, SeeSaw, Google Drive and Zoom) will streamline the learning process for students and parents.
The district also will have school-specific, online “landing sites” to serve as primary hubs where students will access their learning materials. The websites will feature assignments, links, learning resources, announcement videos, due dates, technology support, meal information, emails and other resources. Parents and families can communicate with educators and school staff members via the ParentSquare platform.
The district, which thanks to its 1-to-1 Initiative is able to provide smart devices to every student, purchased 100 internet “hot spots” for families that do not have reliable internet connections.
“(Last spring), we were superstars in reference to our ability to engage our families,” Templeton said. “However, it wasn’t perfect. We do need their support. We’ve got ways for them to understand our systems better.”
Starting times for synchronous learning periods will be staggered to ease the burden on parents of multiple children of different ages, Burson said.
“We have high expectations,” Chase said. “From what I saw tonight, there’s been some huge improvements on accountability, accessibility and organization. It’s not just piecemealed together. It’s put together with a lot of thought and a lot of care to make sure that we’re able to provide something that’s meaningful to all of our students and to the families as well.”