Middle school and high school students in Pe Ell are returning to remote learning after 20% of its campus population quarantined due to COVID-19 exposure, Superintendent Kyle MacDonald wrote Monday morning in a letter.
Starting Tuesday, all students and staff at the secondary schools were expected to return to remote learning only. The change in schedule is expected to last two weeks, the district says, and affects students in sixth through 12th grade.
“Given the number of students and staff affected, remote learning is our best option for the health and safety of our school,” MacDonald wrote. “The 14-day time period will allow us to reduce the spread of Covid and provide more efficient learning to all students. We understand the challenges this will bring to families, which was part of our consideration when deciding.”
A rivalry game between the Pe Ell and Adna boys basketball teams set for tipoff Monday was also canceled, though MacDonald specified in his letter that the “basketball season will continue, except for the quarantined students.”
All future events, including graduation, are expected to continue as planned at the moment.
“We will continue to re-evaluate as needed for the rest of the school year,” MacDonald wrote.
Speaking to The Chronicle on Monday, MacDonald said he couldn’t give specifics on what incidents or events caused the district to quarantine so many educators and students, citing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), but he noted that it wasn’t due to any one single event.
A steady number of teachers being quarantined in recent days due to contact tracing made teaching students in-person difficult. On Monday, the district’s eight-person decision team made the decision to return secondary education to remote only, MacDonald said.
The district, which has been conducting its own contact tracing program, also notified Lewis County Public Health and Social Services of its plans to stop in-person instruction on Tuesday.
Since April 12, a majority of students at Pe Ell School District have been back to full in-person learning.
During remote learning, which will take place between May 18 and May 28, students will video conference in with their teachers during regular class times. Links will be provided by way of students’ emails and assignments will be updated in Google Classrooms.
MacDonald said he and his staff are confident in their remote-learning model, but noted that they “don’t think remote is as good as face-to-face, especially with (regards to) internet connectivity.”
Last fall, when students started the 2020-2021 school year fully remote, Pe Ell schools handed out about 50 internet hotspots to its students to attend class and do homework, MacDonald said.
An exact number of students and staff currently under a quarantine advisory was not known Monday, MacDonald said. There are about a dozen secondary-education teachers, not including other staff workers.