Camas: ‘We want to have students back’

Superintendent addresses remote learning, safety, school reopenings during June 4 virtual town hall

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Camas School District Superintendent Jeff Snell answers media questions related to the resignation of Camas High School Principal Liza Sejkora (not pictured) at the district's headquarters on Feb. 7, 2020. (Kelly Moyer/Post-Record)

For most parents of school-aged children who have seen their daily schedules upended by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there is still one question looming: “Will children return to classrooms in the fall?”

And while it’s still hard to predict exactly what K-12 education will look like next school year, Camas School District leaders said last week they are working hard to find a solution that balances the importance of in-person classroom learning with the health and safety of students, families, staff and the overall community.

“Our commitment is to try to have people back to school (in the fall),” Camas School District Superintendent Jeff Snell told the nearly 500 community members who had tuned in to the district’s first virtual town hall, held Thursday, June 4. “We miss our students. We want to have students in school, but we have a responsibility to do it in a safe way … and to think about our community and our most vulnerable populations and how they may be affected by COVID-19.”

Snell said he expects to receive more guidance from state education leaders this week regarding K-12 education for the 2020-21 school year, but warned community members that state leaders may not be able to pinpoint an exact plan for fall right away.

“The unfortunate thing is that, if we really wanted a decision right now, that decision probably wouldn’t be as flexible as it could be later in the summer,” Snell said, adding that he realized Camas families were eager to know as much as possible about school in the fall in order to plan their work, child care and family schedules.

The district has developed several committees — including a wellness committee, an operations and facilities committee, a teaching and learning committee, an employee support committee and a connectivity committee — to help guide the reopening of Camas schools in the fall. A steering committee has been charged with engaging the community and developing a plan that supports a safe reopening of schools.

“We wanted to be thoughtful about how we organized and connected (the committees),” Snell said. “It’s not a top-down network. They are building off each other.”

The goal, he added, is to “keep people informed, but not overwhelmed.”

Snell said community engagement and participation is key to planning for the fall. The district surveyed parents and families in April and found many in the community understood how challenging it was for teachers and district staff to switch over to a fully remote learning model basically overnight.

“You recognized that going from face-to-face (learning) to fully remote was a heavy lift,” Snell said. “But there were some areas of concern (including) students who didn’t have access to the resources they needed … students who were struggling with remote learning … and concerns about disparities between schools.”

Snell said he realized the last thing families likely wanted to do was fill out another survey, but said the district was looking for feedback from the Camas school community about the remote classes held this spring.

“We want to hear what’s working and what’s not working,” Snell said. “We want to hear from parents who are interested in giving us feedback.”

The 499 community members still logged into the town hall meeting toward the end of Snell’s presentation on June 4 had the chance to share what they thought were the most important things for school district leaders to focus on as they plan for a future amidst the COVID-19 crisis.

Many responded that they were concerned about balancing students’ needs with the threat of the coronavirus.

One participant wrote: “On site and in person classes are so important. I am concerned about the mental health of our kids not interacting with their friends and teachers in person.”

Another wrote that they would like to see the district “balance infection control with child development and feelings of loneliness.”

Snell said district leaders and school administrators are committed to addressing students’ social and emotional needs no matter what the fall term might look like.

“This has been a traumatic spring and kids are going to have needs, staff are going to have needs, and we need to address them,” Snell said. “There’s a reason why we organize schools the way we do and invest in amazing teachers. Their ability to (work with students) on-site is critical, so this is a priority for us, as well.”

At the same time, Snell said, Camas educators have realized how important it is to have remote learning resources and the ability to more easily switch over to distance-learning when the need arises.

“People have been doing the best they can during this quick switch and things will look different in the fall,” Snell said. “We really need to listen to where students and families are at and meet (their) needs.”

To watch the online town hall, visit v=ogqZs7APT2A&t=22s