Planning for a new school year amidst the COVID pandemic

Planning for a new school year amidst the COVID pandemic

For San Juan Island School District staff and board members, summer 2020 hasn’t been a vacation. Instead, they have been using these months to work with parents to create a plan to help keep the upcoming school year COVID-free.

“The goal is to present the fall reopening schedules to the public by mid-August,” San Juan Island School District Superintendent Fred Woods said. He added that parents were surveyed in late June, and a second survey is currently en route.

Woods explained that each school district in the state is expected to present at least two alternatives other than a full reopening. Those two schedules are for a distance learning model and a hybrid that includes both in-person and remote learning and they need to be submitted two weeks before school starts.

After the first survey was sent, Woods and Director of Special Programs Becky Bell met with a group of parent representatives from the Parent-Teacher Association. The information gathered from the survey and parent meeting was presented to committees inclusive of staff from both campuses and all administration. These discussions began in late June. Those workgroups are currently wrapping up their COVID-19 safe opening plans. Once complete, administrators will determine how to implement their proposals.

“Our guiding principle is health and safety. There is much to consider beyond just the actual daily schedule,” Woods explained.

Custodial deep cleaning, breakfast and lunch service, how to maintain social distancing, daily health screenings and transportation are all topics under discussion.

“It’s also important that we consider how to ensure equity given the unique needs and circumstances in the lives of families,” Woods said. “ Before we can release a schedule, we have to ensure we are offering a program that is safe, intentional and provides the support and services for all our learners including those with disabilities.”

Planning teams will continue their work July 27-28, after which a steering committee will review both schedules, Woods explained. Once the final proposed plans are complete, the school board will review them for approval.

“The district is committed to offering the community the best education possible,” Woods said, adding that should the school reopen in the fall on a hybrid model, the district staff is aware there are families who will choose to remain at home for safety reasons.

“We want everyone to know that if that is your choice, we can still serve you. Through Griffin Bay School we offer not only an alternative on-site school but a full spectrum of remote learning programs,” Woods said.

Griffin Bay programs include all grades from kindergarten-12. Every age can have access to public school courses, online curriculums, weekly certified teacher contacts and support, free of charge. Any family that would prefer receiving a public school education from home staying home as opposed to the ebb and flow of moving between on and off-campus in a hybrid system is encouraged and welcome to enroll in Griffin Bay School, Woods said. Families can contact Griffin Bay by phone 360-370-7801, or the district office at 360-378-4133. For more information about Griffin Bay, visit www.sjisd.wednet.edu/Domain/281.

Athletics are still in question, according to Woods.

“If school were to start tomorrow, we would not offer competitive sports where our students would leave the island to compete,” Woods said, adding that guidance from the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association keeps anything from moving forward until the county has reached Phase Three. Even in Phase Three, practices would be socially distant, Woods added, so it’s too early to tell what sports will look like.

“The state athletic governing body already pushed back the start dates for fall sports until after Labor Day,” he said.

July 21, the group will meet again, he added, so additional information is on the horizon.

Planning to open or planning online education both have their challenges. Health and safety is the biggest concern in regards to on-site opening, Woods explained.

“We must do all we can to maintain safety with the current information we have. When taking this into consideration,” Woods said.

The space needed for social distancing, time to clean buildings effectively, added costs associated under the state guidelines all present impacts that staff and board members have been wrestling with.

In regards to online, Woods thanked Rock Island for partnering with the school to ensure each student had connectivity. In addition, voter-passed levies ensured that every student could have a computer to access the curriculum, he added.

“I was encouraged by the commitment of the staff, engagement of the students and support of the community when we moved to a teleschooling model,” Woods said. “Yes, there are challenges, but thanks to everyone, it can be done.”

Woods noted that in his opinion the best form of education is face to face, however, this past spring quarter showed that the school could adapt and move forward successfully with a distance learning approach. There may be tweaks, he added, after receiving feedback from parents regarding the methods and platforms used.

“What the tweaks are and how they can be realized is still under discussion,” Woods said, again encouraging families and community members to reach out to the district at 360-378-4133 with any thoughts or concerns. Individuals may also visit the website at sjisd.wednet.edu for more information.

“Each family has to make a decision that they believe is best for them,” Woods said. “This is why we will be offering various educational opportunities to meet their needs.”