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Coronavirus
Wenatchee School Board approves Smart Restart Plan

WENATCHEE — It is a plan that will surely change before the start of school, but the Wenatchee School Board on Tuesday approved the district-wide Smart Restart Plan.

Superintendent Paul Gordon said the plan is a draft because it is ever-changing with new information that continues to come in. The district is in Stage 1 of the state’s Continuous Learning 2.0, which is online learning.

Stage 2 is a hybrid program with online and in-person learning, but to move to Stage 2 the county must have 75 COVID cases per 100,000 residents. Currently, Chelan County is at 520 cases per 100,000.

“We have to hit that number for 14 consecutive days before we can consider hybrid learning. The focus tonight is really around Stage 1, the Continuous Learning 2.0 plan,” Gordon said.

The school board, in a virtual meeting, heard about school schedules from the principals of elementary schools, middle schools and high schools.

Mike Lane, the executive director of teaching and learning, said in making the schedules the district is trying to balance students with online and offline time, not only during the course of the school day but also within a class period.

Lane said principals are working on “welcome back” videos for the families and students, “where they walk them through daily schedules so they can see what a day would be like, including all the different ways they can interact with building support and guidance and district support and guidance.”

District Communications Director Diana Haglund said they felt this was a great way for the community to hear directly from principals at the start of the school year. All the videos will be in English and Spanish.

At the elementary level, Mission View Principal Jeff Jaeger said there was a desire to have students log in to campus, which will be all new to them. Then, kids can navigate to a dashboard where everything will be a click away, Jaeger said.

The morning time at the elementary schools is mainly synchronous — real-time online instruction — while the afternoon session is mainly asynchronous, where students work at their own pace using recorded lessons or on projects.

“There will be a time of synchronous instruction and asynchronous instruction in small groups. Students will be provided independent work time in Lexia (language development program),” Jaeger said.

The lunch period will be 45 minutes, said Columbia Elementary School Principal Si Stuber, which should provide time for students to get grab-and-go meals from their respective schools. The period after lunch will be asynchronous to give students more time if needed for lunch.

“It was intended to have a live or synchronous morning with an asynchronous afternoon, which provides some flexibility for families but also provides some structure. The morning (instruction) will be accessible to students at a later time also,” Stuber said.

The final period of the elementary school day will provide an opportunity for students and teachers to build relationships, Stuber said. This was not needed last spring when school went online due to COVID because teachers had been with students for several months.

Most students will have new teachers this year.

“So we’re going to try and build those relationships during this time,” he said. “It will be a balance of one-on-one between teacher and student with possible home visits to support.”

The schedule at Lewis and Clark is no different, Principal Alfonso Lopez said, except the subjects will be taught in Spanish and English.

The objective for the middle school schedule is to make sure it matches the in-person schedule, said Orchard Middle School Principal Taunya Brown, so it would not be a major shift when students come back to the building.

Foothills Principal Mike Goviea said the two middle school schedules will be similar.

Most middle school class periods also will be a combination of synchronous and asynchronous, Lane said.

“We recognize at the sixth-grade level, we have to be more flexible because we’ll have kids in secondary school for the first time. The real intent is to try and recreate the schedule they will have when they come back in-person as much as possible,” Lane said.

The goal at Wenatchee High School is to maintain as much of the current schedule as possible, according to Principal Eric Anderson. He said they would be delivering online what they normally would be doing in-person.

The four-period day has additional breaks built-in, Anderson said.

“One of the conversations was how often high school students were assisting their younger brother or sister,” he said. The schedule includes “a little time between courses where they could step aside and help a sibling or mentally separate and then come back to the learning.”

At WestSide High School, Principal Kory Kalahar said the schedule is very similar to the schedule students and teachers will roll back into when they can be face to face again.

At the Wenatchee Valley Technical Skills Center, Principal Pete Jelsing said instructors are making it work online for what is normally hands-on CTE class.

“The team has been working to come up with great ideas with opportunities for students to do some hands-on, even from home,” Jelsing said. “When we do move to a blended model or full-time with students, we’re set. We can be pretty flexible.”

Information about the district’s Smart Restart plan is posted at wenatcheeschools.org.


Local
YMCA to provide childcare during 2021 school year, space is very limited

UPDATE: As of August 12, Eastmont School District has decided to hold off on hosting any YMCA programs until further notice.

WENATCHEE — Not being able to send your child to school for the day also means no more childcare for many parents. The Wenatchee Valley YMCA has a solution, but it can only take in a limited number of children.

The YMCA is finalizing plans to set up six childcare sites spread out between Wenatchee, Eastmont and Cascade school districts, said Brogan Foster, YMCA director of childcare. That number might change, depending on staffing.

Foster said the goal is to be up and running by Aug. 26.

The original plan was for districts, specifically Wenatchee, to provide para-educators for the YMCA. This would help them reach the recommended student-to-caregiver ratio of 1 to 5.

The Wenatchee School District is unable to provide as many as previously thought, she said. Those gaps in staffing are now looking to be filled.

Foster said she is trying to figure out how many students they can provide for, taking into account the low ratios.

At this point, the YMCA is looking at anywhere between a capacity of 30 to 40 children per site, she said. Three sites in Wenatchee, at best, would mean 120 open spots. Eastmont is looking at 80 to 100 and Cascade is closer to 40 or 50.

“We do have limited spots, but it’s better than no spots, unfortunately,” she said.

Once inside, masks are required for everybody, unless students have a doctor’s note that exempts them, she said.

“Mask breaks” are built into the daily schedule for children. It gives children “a chance to just take it off for a second. Take a breather, get a drink,” she said.

Labels on the wall mark where children can go to remove their masks, she said. Signs nearby notify others to stay at least 6 feet away.

The plan is to take in students from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and provide limited instructional support as children navigate their school day, she said. Before and after school programs will also be provided.

For students, their school day will probably include virtual interactions with a teacher, live-streamed lessons as well as closed-computer homework and activities, she said.

The school district, when taking into account all of their students, does not have enough space to handle the 1 to 5 ratio, she said. Even if districts allowed 50% of their students in each week, they would still have hundreds of children in school at the same time.

The program is not much different than the emergency childcare offered to health care and other essential workers last spring, she said. Available space inside of schools consists basically just of the gym and cafeteria area.

Since extra classrooms in schools will not be available, staff will have to get creative with spacing, she said. They will make sure children are adequately spaced out into small groups. YMCA staff will divide up students by their age group and grade.

The YMCA will also not have para-educator support from school districts and will be providing all of the staff themselves, she said. The goal is to get a small program set up in each school. That way, children can attend the school they normally go to.

The more staff that the YMCA gets, the more spots for children they can open up, she said. People who have already paid in advance for YMCA’s 2021 childcare services will be offered spots first. A portion of those parents will just keep their children home if they have the ability to, she said.

Things are “still in the works” and changing daily, she said. The YMCA has not solidified their pricing for the services or maximum enrollment numbers yet.


Local
Census takers begin in-person outreach in Eastern Washington

NCW — Census takers on Sunday began in-person visits to Eastern Washington households that have not responded to the 2020 Census.

In Chelan County, 54.9% of households have already responded to the questionnaire via mail, phone or the internet, according to a news release from the U.S. Census Bureau. In Douglas County, that figure is 60.2%.

The best-responding county in Eastern Washington is Benton County, which has a 72.7% response rate.

Census staff, who are hired from local communities, will try to collect responses from the remaining households in person.

Staff will take health precautions this year due to the pandemic.

Each will follow local public health guidelines when they visit, including wearing masks if they’re required in the area, according to the release. They must also take a virtual training on health and safety protocols, including social distancing.

Households can still return their mailed questionnaires or respond by calling 844-330-2020 or visiting 2020census.gov.

Census counts are conducted once every 10 years and attempt to count all people who live in the United States. The results are used to determine the number of seats per state in the U.S. House of Representatives and the allocation of billions of dollars of federal funds.


News
Inslee announces $40 million pandemic relief fund for Washington immigrants

OLYMPIA — Immigrants in Washington who have not been eligible for federal COVID-19 relief programs, despite paying taxes and working in many of the essential jobs that have kept the state running amid the pandemic, will be getting some support from a $40 million fund Gov. Jay Inslee announced Monday.

The announcement makes Washington the second state, after California, to provide financial relief to undocumented workers and other immigrants whose legal status excluded them from the stimulus payments and supplemental unemployment benefits Congress provided to U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

“COVID-19 doesn’t care what your immigration status is,” Inslee said in a press release. “We must support every family affected by the virus, especially those who lack the necessary means to quarantine or isolate and prevent further spread. This is the right thing for the well-being of individuals, the health of their colleagues and the safety of our communities.”

The fund was the product of months of activism by a coalition of more than 400 immigrant rights and social services organizations that formed in April. In a press release Monday, the coalition hailed the governor’s move but said more help is needed.

The $40 million will be distributed in one-time payments of $1,000 to immigrants who have lost income because of the pandemic, far short of the $1,200 stimulus payments and extra $600-a-week jobless benefits that expired at the end of July.

Paúl Quiñonez Figueroa, one of the coalition’s lead organizers, said the fund will be a valuable lifeline for many but falls far short of the $700 million undocumented immigrants in the state would have received if they were eligible for the federal aid, citing a May estimate by the Washington State Budget and Policy Center. Organizers originally called for $100 million to be set aside for the fund.

“No one is asking their immigration status when they are being forced to show up to work,” Quiñonez said. “But their immigration status apparently does matter when asking for resources to be able to survive.”

There are an estimated 229,000 to 271,000 undocumented immigrants in Washington, working disproportionately in agriculture and other essential jobs.

The state’s farm workers have been hit especially hard by the virus, in part because without state or federal assistance many of them have had no choice but to work.

“Them not having any support or help is actually a danger to everybody,” said Jim Dawson, a co-founder of the Spokane Immigrant Rights Coalition, or SIRC. “If they have no money and have to work when they’re sick, it’s a terrible public health strategy, it’s a terrible way to contain the pandemic, and it’s also terribly unjust.”

Along with the $40 million “Immigrant Relief Fund,” Inslee announced a $3 million fund to pay agricultural workers to stay home when they are ill.

The fund will be administered by a nonprofit organization, yet to be selected, with the help of community organizations around the state. Quiñonez said applicants will need to prove that they don’t qualify for other support but personally identifiable information will not be shared with the state.

If all goes well, he said, the first $1,000 payments will be distributed in October.

Immigrants and their allies have not waited for the state to act. The Washington Dream Coalition, of which Quiñonez is a founder, has raised and distributed roughly $5.5 million. In Spokane, SIRC and Latinos en Spokane raised about $30,000 through a GoFundMe campaign to provide stipends to families, but Latinos en Spokane founder Jennyfer Mesa said that money didn’t go far.

“We were only able to help with one month of rent,” Mesa said. “What happens the next month? These bills keep accumulating. All of these obstacles are serious for families. They’re serious for everybody who’s facing hardship, but if you’re undocumented there’s an extra layer.”

Sens. Patty Murray of Washington and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii led a group of 27 Democratic senators in a July 31 letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., calling for federal aid to be expanded to immigrants who pay federal taxes, including those who are undocumented.

“Immigrants are disproportionately working in essential jobs to keep Americans healthy, safe, fed, and poised for economic recovery — often at great risk to their own lives and health,” Murray and Hirono wrote. “Excluding immigrant families, many of which include U.S. citizen children and spouses, from the federal government’s economic disaster relief response will impair our Nation’s ability to not only restore our economy but also to maintain critical essential services during the pandemic.”

The stimulus checks Congress authorized in March excluded not only immigrants but also their U.S. citizen spouses if the couples filed taxes jointly. GOP Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Thom Tillis of North Carolina introduced a bill in June to address that problem, but it has so far failed to advance in the Senate.

Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Republican whose district covers most of Central Washington, wrote a letter to House leaders in April encouraging them to find a fix. Murray and other Democrats, however, prefer a broader solution that provides financial assistance to immigrants, not just their U.S. citizen spotuses.

Senate Republicans did not include Tillis and Rubio’s bill in the COVID relief proposal they unveiled in late July. Negotiations over a new coronavirus relief package, still deadlocked, appear unlikely to offer help for immigrants, leaving the burden of providing any large-scale assistance to states.

“Washington state has enjoyed a lot of the fruits of the labor of immigrants,” Mesa said. “The least we can do is keep them safe and provide some support.”


News
Chelan County sees huge turnout for primary election

CHELAN —NCW voters came out in droves for the Aug. 4 primary this year. Chelan County alone had one of its biggest turnouts in about 50 years.

Chelan County saw 28,284 people cast ballots out of 47,793 registered voters (59.2% turnout), according to the Washington Secretary of State website. It’s the highest voter turnout since about 1972, said Chelan County Auditor Skip Moore. Statewide turnout was at about 50% and Chelan County had the 10th highest turnout in the state.

A combination of factors probably led to the high percentage, including the number of candidates running for governor and the general political environment these days, Moore said.

“Right now, I think it is just a combination of the political environment nationally and statewide and then you throw on the issues of the lockdown, COVID, all those things boil together,” he said. “People want to get their voice heard.”

Grant County Auditor Michele Jaderlund agreed that the major motivation for voters was the governor’s race.

Chelan County also received the highest percentage of voter turnout in North Central Washington. As of the counts on Aug. 7, the turnouts were:

  • Douglas County 49.7%
  • Okanogan County 43.2%
  • Grant County 41.4%

As more ballots were counted, Douglas County is now close to 58% turnout, Douglas County Auditor Thad Duvall said. Many of those ballots came in close to the voting deadline.

“I think people really realized that the decisions made by elected officials can really affect you in your life and so it’s time to have a voice in that process,” Duvall said.

“The Friday before the election we were at 25% turnout,” Duvall said. “On the Monday before the election we were at 34%. So we got avalanched on Monday and Tuesday and another huge amount came on the Wednesday after the election because people mailed on Election Day.”

Said Duvall: “We’re kind of wondering if something similar is going to happen during the presidential election.”

Those numbers may be even higher when ballots are certified on Aug. 18, Jaderlund said. Grant County is now looking at voter turnout north of 50%.

In comparison, in the 2016 primary Chelan County had 39.4% voter turnout and Grant County had 31.4% voter turnout.

The increase in voting led to about 35% of the ballots arriving in the mail at the county’s election office days after election day, Moore said. He had enough staff to handle the increase.

County residents will likely carry their activism into the general election, Moore said. Presidential elections tend to have high voter turnout in general — in 2016 the voter turnout was 80.4%. It’s likely to be even higher than that this year, he said.

“It’s a Super Bowl of elections as it were and there is so much going on that yeah, I think people are going get out and play,” Moore said.