Camas School District leaders this week clarified a plan to bring all K-12 students back to the classroom for limited, in-person opportunities, beginning with first- and second-graders on Jan. 19, 2021.
The district’s new plan to bring the area’s youngest learners back first for in-person learning follows the partial-day, twice-weekly classroom schedule that has been in place for more than 75 percent of the district’s kindergarten students since Nov. 9.
The district will continue to offer a fully remote learning option for families who do not want to send their children back to the classroom during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new reopening plan follows recently updated state guidelines announced by Gov. Jay Inslee on Dec. 16, which recommend returning certain groups of students to school buildings even in counties where COVID-19 rates are considered to be “high,” with more than 350 cases per 100,000 residents.
Clark County is included in the state’s “high” category with 450 cases per 100,000 residents, as of Dec. 14. The state’s new guidelines recommend schools in high-COVID counties “should only offer in-person instruction for elementary and high-need students in small groups of 15 students or fewer.”
The state defines counties in the “moderate” category as having between 50 and 349 cases per 100,000 residents and in the “low” category if they have fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 residents.
School board members met with Camas school superintendent Jeff Snell at an online meeting Monday, Dec. 21, to discuss new statewide school reopening guidelines and set dates for bringing Camas students back to school after winter break.
Corey McEnry, a Camas school board member and high school teacher in the Hockinson School District, said he felt comfortable with the new reopening timelines Snell showed board members Monday.
“We’ve said from the beginning that we were going to listen to the experts and support recommendations made by county and state public health (officials), so I have to put my faith in them that what they’re saying is based on the latest research,” McEnry said.
District sets 2 reopening timelines to match COVID-19 rates
The new plan also calls for returning third- and sixth-graders to the classroom, also for small-group, part-time classes, Feb. 1.
Two weeks later, on Feb. 16, 2021, the district will bring fourth- and fifth-graders back, and begin to phase-in students in grades seven through 12, beginning with those who have the highest academic and/or social-emotional needs.
The elementary school students in grades one through five will be split into two cohorts and attend school from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays or Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays will be reserved for remote learning and for acting as a buffer, with time to thoroughly sanitize school buildings, between the two groups of students.
The sixth-graders will attend school from 9 a.m. to noon, also on a two-days-per-week basis divided into two cohorts. The plan calls for “working towards providing (in-person classroom time) for each student who wants the opportunity” for students in grades seven through 12.
When the county dips into the “moderate” category, with no more than 350 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents, Camas will switch to a hybrid model that will check in with families during the first week in the moderate range and prepare for transporting students to school buildings. The district plans to recheck the county’s COVID-19 rate the following Tuesday and, if the rate has not climbed above 375 cases per 100,000 residents, shift to a hybrid model that Thursday.
Under the “moderate” hybrid scenario, elementary school students will return for full-day, in-person learning twice a week for at least two weeks. Once the county has been in the moderate range for two weeks, the district will bring elementary students back for four days of full-day, in-person learning with COVID-prevention protocols, such as mandatory mask-wearing, frequent hand-washing, building sanitization and physical distancing.
The moderate timeline for middle school students will shift to the twice-weekly, full-day hybrid learning for sixth-graders on the Thursday after the county dips into the moderate zone, with plans to add seventh-graders to the classrooms on the following Monday and eighth-graders on the following Thursday.
Snell said this week that if the rate increases to more than 375 cases per 100,000, the district will “pause one week and reevaluate” for elementary and middle school students.
High school students would transition to a hybrid, in-person and remote learning model only after the county’s COVID-19 rates fall below 225 cases per 100,000 residents. Once the rates fall to that level, the district will reach out to high school families, prepare its transportation plans and check the following Tuesday to make sure rates are still decreasing and approaching 200. If they are, high school students would be able to return to their schools for a hybrid learning model the next Monday. If the rate increases to more than 225 cases, the district will pause for one week and reevaluate high-schoolers’ return to the classroom.
“I’m happy to see the guidelines have changed based on recent research,” Camas school board president Connie Hennessey said Monday. “We all have wanted to get our kids back in school, and it sounds like now we can do that knowing that it is (safer), but also have an option for families who are wanting to be remote.”
District will hold January town hall
Snell said he expected some families would have strong opinions about the new reopening plan but that most would fall in the middle.
“Some people will be very excited and some will be very critical of this,” Snell said, “and about 60 percent will be in the middle that just wants some clarity and wants to know what’s next for them.”
Snell said district administrators feel confident that the COVID protocols they’ve put in place for kindergarteners since early November will prove to be just as effective at reducing the risk of coronavirus transmissions inside school buildings when other children begin to come back to the classroom. So far, the district has calculated just one school transmission of COVID between two staff members after bringing 20 percent of its student body back for limited in-person learning.
The risk of COVID-19 inside schools will never be zero during a pandemic, Snell added, but said the district has found ways to limit the risk of transmission. The superintendent said he was pleased that the state’s new guidelines will allow for more in-person learning opportunities in Camas.
“I’m very frustrated that we’re only at 20 percent of our student population (in the classroom), so I relish the chance to bring more students in,” Snell said Monday.
The Camas school board will discuss the reopening plans again at the board’s Jan. 11, 2021 meeting, and the district will hold a community town hall that week to give updates and answer questions. “It won’t be perfect,” Snell said of the district’s new reopening plan, “but it does give our talented staff an opportunity to really deliver for our kids.”