The goal for local school districts is getting students back in the classroom safely, but with high COVID-19 case numbers in Lewis County, social distancing requirements, the need for both in-person and virtual options and having enough staff — it’s a challenging goal.
At the Centralia School District, K-6 graders are back in the classroom on a hybrid model, but middle and high schoolers won’t be in the classroom on a hybrid model until March — with seventh through ninth grade going back on March 8 and 10th through 12th grade starting on March 15. Centralia School District Superintendent Dr. Lisa Grant said one of the reasons for the start date of March 15 is the first day of the third trimester and it helps keep class credits consistent when switching from virtual learning.
“We are in the midst of a double levy failure so our flexibility in adding staff is not simple and we want to make sure we can keep students and teachers safe,” Grant said.
The Centralia School District has set up a “broadband cafe” for students who want the structure of going to school or do not have reliable internet. The broadband cafe has been set up in the performing arts center in the high school, where there is room for social distancing, Grant said. Students can sign up for the broadband cafe on the district’s website.
“We want kids back in buildings. We want students and staff to be safe. We know March does seem far off so we want to make sure we are doing everything possible to provide resources and support in the meantime,” Grant said.
About 20 percent of the K-6 students in Centralia that have the option to attend school on a hybrid model have opted for the full virtual option.
In order to teach students virtually and in person, a teacher is designated to teach a class of virtual students while other in-person teachers get half of their class on Monday and Tuesday and the other half on Thursday and Friday. When the district switched K-6 to a hybrid model some students had to switch teachers.
“We don’t want to keep switching that. We don’t believe that’s good for children. We’re really trying to maintain consistency,” she said. “We need to implore our community’s help in practicing the safety protocols because we know it can reduce the incidents in our community and it will help us get kids back.”
The Chehalis School District now has all students back in the classroom on a hybrid learning model after welcoming kindergarteners back on Oct. 5 and phasing in higher grade levels through high schoolers, who came back on Nov. 30.
The hybrid A/B learning model is being used to reduce class sizes to allow for social distancing. The Chehalis School District took safety precautions before bringing all students back by having health and safety standards approved by a local infection prevention consultant (IPAC). All Lewis County superintendents meet with the local health department and pediatricians to stay up-to-date on COVID-19 case numbers and best safety practices.
“When I reflect on what we have accomplished this fall, I am so impressed with the Chehalis School District staff, teachers, admin, and board. Each one is relentlessly dedicated to providing high-quality education for every student in a safe and healthy environment, and for that, I am thankful,” Chehalis School District Superintendent Dt. Christine Moloney said.
At the Toledo School District, kindergarten through 8th grade is at school on a hybrid model and so are high school seniors. Since Toledo’s high school building is currently under construction, Superintendent Chris Rust said they are waiting for more classrooms to be constructed in order to have the space to bring more high schoolers back safely.
“Toledo Schools have had a total of 5 COVID-positive cases and 3 close-contacts. No staff members have tested positive at this time,” Rust posted on the school’s blog on Dec. 17.
Several employees of the subcontractors working on building Toledo’s new high school tested positive for COVID-19, Rust said, slowing down the construction process.
“We are working with our contractor and architect to identify firm dates for occupancy of the new spaces. In the meantime, the team at THS is working on a schedule that might accommodate more students than we currently have,” Rust said. “Due to construction, many areas of the existing school are not available. In ordinary circumstances, we would be cramped. Crowding isn’t an option right now.”