EAST WENATCHEE — The Eastmont School Board on Monday approved the reopening plan recommended last week by school administrators, setting off a communication blitz to parents covering options and offering opportunities to get details.
The base proposal is for an entirely remote start to the school year that brings students back into classrooms as soon as health officials believe COVID-19 case numbers are under control. The first day of school is Aug. 26. The best-case scenario is the youngest students and those with special needs would return to classrooms after two weeks with additional students added every few weeks as conditions allow. The dates depend on COVID-19 transmission.
“Our goal is to move on to the next phase as quickly as possible,” Superintendent Garn Christensen assured board members concerned about long-term effects of remote learning on students, parents and teachers.
Board members said they would prefer in-person instruction, but understand the need to be cautious.
“In the situation we’re in, we might have to go back and shut down,” board President Dave Piepel said. “I think it’s more strategic to plan for the worst-case scenario, so we know we can function if we get shut down again. The thought of going through the school year without a setback, I think, is wishful thinking. It’s better to move forward with this, to be prepared as best we can.”
In a presentation at the start of the meeting, Dr. Malcolm Butler, the health officer for the Chelan-Douglas Health District, said since the region’s partial reopening on June 10, the number of cases here has grown 24-fold, from about 25 cases for every 100,000 population to 600 cases for every 100,000. Similar growth in the case rate seen statewide is part of what prompted Gov. Jay Inslee to boost mask requirements and roll back some reopening requirements last month. The results of those extra precautions are expected to be reflected in the next couple of weeks, Butler said.
He is anticipating guidance from the state about how low the case rate needs to be before classrooms could start reopening.
“All modeling of classroom reopenings assumes a low rate,” he said. “Six hundred is a long way from what would be considered low.”
Butler said he has heard the state’s “low” number might be 50 or 75 for every 100,000 people, though Oregon announced last week it is using a rate of 10 for every 100,000. He won’t know for sure until word comes down from the state level.
“We have not heard from them yet,” he told board members Monday. “That’s as frustrating to me as it is to you.”
The board’s official approval of the plan, that now will be sent to the state for a review, allows the district to give parents and students a better idea what to expect, while continuing to be “fluid and flexible” to respond to changing conditions.
On Tuesday, the district is direct-mailing fact sheets on the plan to families and posting the details to social media, including videos.
School principals are hosting a series of Google Meets presentations for parents, which will include time to ask specific questions. The meetings are at 6 p.m. (English) and 7 p.m. (Spanish) Tuesday, Thursday and next Monday, with another round set for the week of Aug. 17.
Parents and students interested in the district’s “virtual academy” are invited to a meeting at the same times Wednesday. The program, offered through Eastmont’s HomeFIELD program, provides a year-long alternative schooling option, eliminating some of the uncertainty with a phased restart dependent on case counts. Registration for that option is due by Aug. 12.
Training for staff members — covering everything from instruction and safety to technology and social emotional learning — is planned the week of Aug. 17.
For details on the plan and how to attend one of the informational sessions, go to the district’s website, eastmont206.org.