Lewis County Health Officer Dr. Rachel Wood said that she plans to make an announcement “within the next couple of days” regarding her recommendation on whether students should return to school in the fall.
“We’ve been working on this since the beginning of June and I’ve worked on it for the better part of today,” Wood said on Thursday afternoon. “I’m not ready to talk about any of the details at this time but it’s coming to a head right now.”
Wood said this just after Thurston County Health Officer Dr. Dimyana Adbelmalek released a letter stating that she is advising superintendents at Thurston County Schools to remain closed to in-person general instruction for the 2020 fall quarter.
“We’ve seen a lot of spikes in cases, unfortunately, since we’ve moved to Phase 3,” Wood said.
Wood said that her soon-to-be-released recommendation is being made with the health and safety of Lewis County residents in mind.
“It’s not an easy decision... We do want to prioritize our children and we want them to return to school but our community needs to be as vigilant as possible in slowing the spread of COVID-19. Our community needs to maintain safe practices at work. They need to avoid social gatherings with those outside of their households and they need to consistently wear cloth masks,” she said.
Lewis County schools have been working to create reopening plans with the safety of staff and students in mind as they prepare to return to the classroom — full-time, part-time or virtually — in the fall.
The Centralia School District has opted for a hybrid school week, meaning students will attend school in-person for two days of the week and have virtual instruction the other three days. In the current plan, there will be a full-time, face-to-face instruction option for kindergarten through sixth grade and a fully virtual option for parents that don’t feel comfortable sending their children to school yet.
The Chehalis School District’s reopening plan will be presented to and possibly approved by the school board at 1:30 p.m. on August 4. Chehalis School District Superintendent Christine Moloney said that the plan they are working on is a hybrid model with two days in the classroom and three days of remote learning for all grade levels. There will also be a fully online option.
Moloney said that the district will begin teacher training in mid-August to improve teacher’s online education abilities.
Centralia Christian School, a privately-funded school, is opting for a full in-person school week and Principal Ann Stout said that the school has received “a lot of interest” from families whose children usually attend local public schools and have had two new families enroll so far.
CCS has about 180 students enrolled from preschool to tenth grade and caps grade levels off at 22 students per classroom so some grade levels, such as second grade with 21 students currently enrolled, are getting close to maxing out.
“We still want to obey the government. We are registered with OSPI but we don’t get any funding from them so we don’t have to follow what the public schools have to follow. We have used their guidelines when creating our reopening plan,” Stout said.
Centralia Christian School has opted for face shields instead of cloth masks. Stout said that the school is going to give each student a Centralia Christian School cap with a piece of plastic attached to act as a face shield.
“Mainly we wanted to do the face shield so that the kids can see us smile and we can see the kids smile and really connect with them,” she said.
Unnecessary furniture is being removed from classrooms in order to have more room for physical distancing.
“We do have a pretty large facility. Our building is almost an acre square. During chapel, we meet in the gym and we usually sit shoulder to shoulder but this year we will separate out and use the whole gym. We will probably show music videos rather than sing songs during chapel,” Stout said.
She said that getting all students back to school full time was important for the CCS and feels that in-person learning is most beneficial to students.
“Especially for our younger students, social learning is probably one of the biggest things we try to teach and you can't really do that from a distance. You can’t learn to share if there’s no else to share with,” Stout said.
Stout said that she has received a lot of calls from parents asking if the school will require students to get vaccinated if a COVID-19 vaccine comes out. She said that the school won’t require it if one is released.
Centralia Christian School’s top priorities when creating the reopening plan were the safety of staff and students, keeping the school experience as normal as possible and keeping the joy of learning alive even during difficult times, Stout said.
Chehalis Superintendent Moloney will be providing students with Chromebooks to make sure each student has a device to access the online learning materials.
“Things can morph and change based on our needs and things that come up. We are excited. We have, I believe, a really good plan for face-to-face instruction for our kids and great support for our staff in making sure we’re making things safe and welcoming and engaging for our kids,” she said.
Moloney said that if the Lewis County Public Health says that fully-online learning would be the safest option then the district can do that.
“We will do whatever the department of health of Lewis County says that we need to do. We are prepared. As an educator, I believe that face-to-face instruction is really powerful for a kid's learning and engagement,” she said. “I’ve been an online instructor as well and with the right tools and the right training, we can definitely provide high-quality online instruction.”