Upcoming Changes | 3.23.21
Yesterday, Governor Inslee issued an executive order allowing Washington state school districts to choose to use a minimum three-feet social distancing model for students (in most settings) or to remain with six-foot distancing through the end of the school year. These recommendations align with the recent CDC guidance, which eases many concerns around spacing issues in classrooms. Our teams have been discussing what this could mean for Oak Harbor and want to share some preliminary information.
On March 16, our School Board approved a plan to expand in-person learning in K-4 to four full days a week and to return Hand-in-Hand Early Learning Center to its regular schedule. These models, which offer all PK-4 students more in-person services, were planned under the prior guidance and are the same that many districts are now pursuing under the new guidance.
Our board also approved the expansion of hybrid learning for 7-12 to two full days starting Monday, April 19. The new distancing flexibility increases the choices available to our schools’ planning teams. However, it is important to note that the six-foot mandate is still required for students in common areas, lunch, or activities when increased exhalation occurs (singing, shouting, band, etc.). Six feet must also be maintained between adults and between adults and students. This creates some unique, currently unresolved challenges in these settings.
Twenty percent (20%) of our families still choose to have their children remain in distance-only learning. Under the Governor’s order, we are required to keep this as an option. However, unlike Oak Harbor, most districts only offer families one distance option. In Oak Harbor, we are currently offering three: Oak Harbor Virtual Academy, Distance Plus, and HomeConnection. Sustaining these models requires time for our staff to engage and work with these students during dedicated distance learning time, which is currently offered on Wednesdays.
IMPLICATIONS AND STAFFING
It’s too early to definitively say what, if any, changes may be made to our current expanded school plans. The lessening of these restrictions allows for other districts in Washington state to catch up to districts like ours that have provided more in-person learning opportunities for their students. Changes at any level have major implications for food service, transportation, and classified staff. They also affect what distance options we can offer and would likely require students to change teachers and schedules.
We have already posted a number of jobs to support our current reopening plan and remain short-staffed in transportation, food service, paraeducators, and all types of substitutes. We hope to see greater community interest in these jobs since any expansion in services would require hiring even more staff. We are currently lacking candidates, which is a major barrier to additional changes in the short term.
Rest assured that our team is thoroughly reviewing additional information and guidance from the Department of Health and OSPI. Any recommendation that may be submitted to our School Board must be properly vetted and approved by our union groups, district leadership team, and Island County Public Health, and adequate staffing to implement the plan must be in place.
The most positive information from the Governor’s announcement yesterday is that we should start planning for schools to open on regular schedules in the fall of 2021. This is exciting news and it allows us to make necessary changes in our school system over the summer to be ready to bring our students back to school in a more traditional format.
Thank you for your continued patience as we have safely navigated this school year with ever-changing guidelines. We know there are passionate opinions about school reopening, which reminds us that our entire community deeply loves our children.