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Wenatchee sticks to hybrid plan for middle, high school students

WENATCHEE — A proposal to send Wenatchee’s middle and high school students back to classrooms full-time was met with opposition Tuesday by teachers and the majority of school board members.

As a result, students in grades 6 through 12 will continue in hybrid instruction for the rest of the school year. Students from kindergarten through fifth grade returned to classrooms full-time on April 19.

Board member Julie Norton, an outspoken proponent of bringing students back for full-time instruction, pressed the school board Tuesday to make the change.

The board had voted at the March 29 meeting to bring back K-5 students for full-time instruction but to keep 6-12 students in hybrid learning for the remainder of the school year, based on the circumstances at the time. The hybrid model has students on campus in the morning and the other half in the afternoon.

“There were a number of topics addressed during that discussion, and ultimately the board made the decision to adopt the superintendent’s recommendations,” Board President Laura Jaecks said Tuesday of the March 29 meeting. “Since that time, we have all been watching the community transmission numbers and there has been a dip. That’s why we are here today.”

Norton argued that since that time, the numbers are below the CDC threshold to return 6-12 students and the health district issued a statement that kids are safer in school.

World photo 

Julie Norton

Wenatchee School Board member

“This is a mental health crisis with students that shouldn’t be happening. What is troubling is measuring student mental health with COVID infection rates. The two just don’t line up,” Norton said. “We were told this is a mental health emergency with clear direction that every day matters. Schools around us have decided to open full time. That is something that needs to be considered.”

The Eastmont School District is working on bringing its secondary students back to school next week. Eastmont’s elementary students started full-time this week

Board member Maria Iñiguez said the reality is that school is not prepared to provide a safe learning environment for secondary students. Iñiguez believes the school district needs to redirect its focus and resources to the fall start up so it can safely return all students to full-time instruction. Right now, with the current set up in our classrooms, we can’t do that, she said.

“Eastmont has capabilities. Eastmont has different student counts. Eastmont has different demographics. Using Eastmont School District as a reason is not apples to apples in my opinion,” Iñiguez said.

Teachers and students also have some concerns.

Wenatchee Education Board President Monica Christensen presented a survey of teachers to the board. She said 215 secondary teachers were surveyed on whether the secondary students should come back to school full-time. She said 17% were in favor, 83% were not.

Board member Michele Sandberg said a survey of students also doesn’t support the move.

“Going back to school in person does not honor the majority of the 6-12 graders that did the survey a few weeks ago. They wanted to stay in the hybrid model. I think it is really a disservice if we are doing surveys and not listening,” she said.

Board member Martin Barron said the elementary seems to be successful and that is good to hear. However, he doesn’t think middle school and high school have any of the same conditions.

“Has the situation changed? Have we discovered new considerations we had not thought about before? I don’t think so,” Barron said. “I respect the decision.”

Michele Sandberg

Wenatchee School Board member

Sandberg pointed out the board receives information whenever students go into quarantine. She said that number is increasing significantly at the elementary and secondary levels.

“I don’t want to blame it on full-time or hybrid,” Sandberg said. “It’s springtime. I know we have a lot of students go off in non-school activities and have contact with other students from other schools. We can’t control that. I believe we had our first in-class transmission this week.”

Sandberg said just because the board has the legal authority to open school back up doesn’t mean they should do it. The board has to make smart decisions, she said.

Photos: Chelan County PUD headquarters going up

Chelan PUD's Steve Wright leaving after 8 years

WENATCHEE — General Manager Steve Wright is leaving the Chelan County PUD after eight years in the utility’s top job.

“The primary reason is simply that it’s been long enough. I’ve spent 40 years in the industry, 20 years in leadership. I want the opportunity to try something new,” he announced in a Tuesday afternoon statement.

“My contract with the PUD to serve as the General Manager runs through the end of this year. I have informed the Board that I do not intend to serve as the General Manager beyond that,” he said in the statement.

Wright was hired by the PUD in 2013 after a short-lived retirement from his previous position as head of the Bonneville Power Administration in Oregon. He started at Bonneville in 1981 in an entry-level position before becoming its intermediate leader in 2000 and then being permanently appointed in 2002.

Wright said he’s made his announcement early to allow the PUD’s board of commissioners time to search for his replacement and with enough time for an overlap in the transition.

In a statement of its own, the commission said it will conduct a national search for a new general manager and noted that the public will have an opportunity for input. They also thanked Wright for his work.

“We are particularly grateful that Steve will stay on as the General Manager through the end of this year and fulfill the full term of his contract,” the commissioners said. “We’d like for him to stay longer, but we appreciate the time he has given us.”

As for the future, Wright’s not sure what’s next for him.

“I have some thoughts but no firm plans. First and foremost, having run a few marathons, I believe in running through the tape,” Wright said in the statement. “I am feeling very optimistic about Chelan PUD and Chelan County. I want to make sure I am providing full effort until it’s the next person’s turn. We will keep doing what we have been doing, guided by our strategic plan.”

Citing 'stunning progress' on coronavirus, Biden celebrates easing of mask rules

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Fully vaccinated people can safely engage in outdoor activities like walking and hiking without wearing masks but should continue to use face-coverings in public spaces where they are required, U.S. health regulators and President Joe Biden said on Tuesday, while urging those who have not to get the shot.

The updated health advice comes as more than half of all adults in the United States have now received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Biden said the new advice was a result of steps the country had taken to fight the coronavirus.

“We’ve made stunning progress because of all of you,” Biden said, adding that COVID-19 cases are “down dramatically.” Deaths among senior citizens have dropped by 80% as vaccinations have increased, he said.

“If you’re vaccinated, you can do more things, more safely, both outdoors as well as indoors,” Biden said, while adding that masks should still be worn in big crowds and at stadium events.

Wearing face masks has been considered by experts one of the most effective ways of controlling virus transmission. With most COVID-19 transmission occurring indoors, and vaccinations on the rise, the use of masks outdoors has been under public debate for weeks in the United States as Americans look to enjoy the benefits of being fully vaccinated.

The CDC called the new guidelines a “first step” in helping fully vaccinated Americans resume activities they had stopped because of the pandemic.

New COVID-19 cases dropped 16% in the last week as the United States surpassed 140 million people having received at least one shot of authorized vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine.

Just over 29% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, the CDC reported, and 43% have had one dose of the two-shot vaccines.

Last week’s figures were the biggest percentage drop in weekly new cases since February, according to a Reuters analysis of state and county data.

The White House is trying to overcome vaccine hesitancy, and Biden offered the new mask guidelines as another reason to get the jab on Tuesday.

“So, for those who haven’t gotten their vaccination, especially if you’re younger or thinking you don’t need it, this is another great reason to go get vaccinated,” Biden said.

Small outdoor gatherings

The CDC said fully-vaccinated Americans can safely dine outdoors with friends from multiple households at restaurants and attend small outdoor gatherings with a mixture of fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

CDC continues to recommend masking for crowded outdoor events such as parades and sporting events and indoor visits to the hair salon, shopping malls, movie theaters and houses of worship.

The agency classified activities as “red,” “yellow” and “green” based on level of safety for unvaccinated people.

It said unvaccinated people can also walk and run unmasked with household members outdoors safely and attend small outdoor gatherings with fully vaccinated family and friends.

Data on whether vaccinated people can spread infection to those who did not receive their shots is limited and the CDC warned that people should evaluate risk to friends and family before going out without masks.

This is an update to the CDC’s guidance, which in March said people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can meet without masks indoors in small groups with others who also have been inoculated.