LEAVENWORTH — Taking the advice of the Chelan-Douglas Health District, the Cascade School Board has decided to delay bringing back more students for hybrid learning.

At the Cascade School Board meeting on Tuesday, the board decided to bring back middle school students at the same time as high school students on Jan. 19. The original plan was to bring back middle school students on Dec. 7.

With COVID-19 rates in Chelan County rising to more than 800 cases per 100,000, the health district advised school districts not to bring back any more students for in-person learning for time being.

Cascade currently has preschool to fifth grade back in school on a hybrid model.

“The health district said we have a spike in transmissions in our community and in addition, they said it was better to have a buffer from around the holidays when people mix together,” said Cascade Superintendent Tracey Beckendorf-Edou of the decision to delay bringing back middle school students.

The plan is to bring back middle school and high school students on Jan. 19, which is the end of the first semester. Beckendorf-Edou said they would have small groups of students coming in, following health safety precautions, social distancing, face coverings and screenings, just like at the elementary schools.

Certainly, the impacts of COVID on staff are a big concern.

“Obviously when you have cohorts, each teacher works with two cohorts, like A and B. So if you had a teacher out, that impacts two cohorts. Staffing is a big concern,” she said.

Beckendorf-Edou said the school district has done well reaching out to students who have been struggling with remote learning. She said home visits have really helped increase student engagement and participation.

“I would say, student engagement is a challenge but the home visits help mitigate the challenge. Another thing we do — students really struggling — we can bring them in small groups of up to five at a time,” she said. “Some students are coming into our secondary schools when they need additional support.”

Moving to a hybrid model for middle school and high school students will be beneficial, Beckendorf-Edou believes, just like it has been for the elementary students.

“I think a lot of students really want face time with their teachers and other students, so what we’ve seen in our elementary schools is students who come in person really benefit from that. It increases engagement and also socio-emotional learning — that interaction with other kids and with staff members,” she said. “It’s hard to replicate that in an online environment.”

Ian Dunn: 664-7157