EAST WENATCHEE — Under bright sunny skies Monday, some students were welcomed back to Eastmont elementary and secondary schools. About 3 percent to 5 percent of the most vulnerable students were allowed to return to school, Eastmont Superintendent Garn Christensen said at Monday's Eastmont School Board meeting.
Christensen said last Friday there was a potential coronavirus exposure at one of the district's campuses that threatened reopening.
“We had to make some changes and adjustments in our plans for this morning," Christensen said Monday. "We had students transitioning to different campuses and we held that off until we were able to get better information. We were being very aggressive and very safe in that area. Returning more students to campus is based on the premise we don’t become a community transmission site. Transmissions are occurring in a lot of different settings.”
There are now over 1,500 people, including over 400 students, coming to Eastmont campuses on a daily basis, which Christensen said is way outside anyone’s comfort zone.
“It’s not easy. There are lots of 'three steps forward and three steps back.' At this time, we have our phase 1A, 1B, 1C approved by the health department,” he said. “We cannot proceed further until (COVID) rates drop lower. It was a good first day.”
Students returning Monday are part of the school district's phased plan for returning students to school, which has been approved by the school board and the Chelan-Douglas Health District.
Phase 1C next Monday would return small groups of students to school, including athletic training. Phase 2A would bring K-4 elementary students back to school, but the COVID rates in Douglas County would need to be below 75 per 100,000 or Christensen said they would need to receive another waiver from the health district.
Spencer Taylor, Eastmont's executive director of elementary education, assisted at Grant and Kenroy schools on Monday. He said things appeared to go smoothly.
“I think the plan that we’re following to go slow is really wise because just with the new 20-ish students at the elementary level, there are a lot of logistics that have to have happen,” Taylor said. “It takes a lot of people-power to receive the kids, check the parent manifestation and move the kids to a different area if we didn’t get the manifestation.”
Taylor said it was good they were able to continue to practice and expand strategies to make sure all the kids and staff are safe.
Matt Charlton, the district's assistant superintendent of secondary education, said he was interested to see how health protocols were being implemented.
“I was pleased with what I was seeing. Our school staff was taking it seriously,” Charlton said. “We’re going to need to be intentional on scheduling mass breaks, going outside, especially while the weather is nice. We have to build student capacity back up for sitting. There will be work developing student capacity in those areas.”
This is harder than regular school, Christensen said.
“This isn’t just being greeted by your teacher on the first day of school — masking, distancing. A lot of what you learn in school is social interactions. We’re having to learn those in a very constrained environment,” he said. “If you are wearing a mask all day long, that is a challenge, even for those used to it.”