North County School Districts putting plans in place

NORTH COUNTY - Tonasket and Oroville School closed their doors to students and staff at the end of the school...

By Gary A. DeVon – gdevon@gazette-tribune.com &
Laura Knowlton – lknowlton@gazette-tribune.com

Local districts trying to lessen impact on students

OLYMPIA – Just one day after ordering school closures in three counties on the west side of the state, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee expanded the closures to all schools throughout the state in a press conference Friday, March 13.

The governor said he was taking the unprecedented move in an effort to minimize the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus). In his directive, Gov. Jay Inslee took the following action:

  • Expanded the prohibition of social, spiritual and recreational gatherings of more than 250 people to include the entire state of Washington
  • Closing all schools in Washington State (K-12, 2-year, 4-year, community and technical schools) no later than Tuesday March 17, 2020 through at least April 24, 2020
  • Expanded the directive of nursing/assisted living homes to adult family homes

Locally, Tonasket and Oroville school districts ended their school day last Monday with instructions to students on how to carry on their school work from home.

“As many of you know Governor Inslee mandated the executive order to close all schools until at least April 24, 2020. The building offices will remain open through Friday, March 20, for families to pick up their student’s belongings. Only staff essential to provide this help and to maintain the facility will be on campus this week,” said Tonasket School District Superintendent, Steve McCullough.

Tonasket school buildings are closed to all outside groups and the buildings are off-limits to all staff and community on weekends, no exceptions, through April 27th.

In a letter to parents and guardians, Oroville Superintendent Dr. Jeff Hardesty wrote, “I write to you thoughtfully about our Governor’s recent announcement to close schools statewide. I understand that this school closure will impact families socially, emotionally and economically. The Oroville School District will be providing support in an effort to reduce some of the impacts to your family.”

There are still a lot of unknowns as schools work through the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) which has now been declared a global pandemic and Superintendents and administrators across the region are working very closely as they work through this unique situation they are up against.

“As you know, the District has been preparing for a remote learning program for students in the event of a school closure,” said Oroville Supt. Hardensty. “You will receive more detailed information about your child’s remote learning program early next week.  For now, please know that your child’s new school week will consist of: one conference per week with their teacher, i.e. via, phone, Skype and/or email, and weekly assignments to be completed at home. This instructional program will still be based on required grade level learning standards, and will include support for students who might struggle with the work at home. We still need to provide students with the skills to advance to the next grade level; and, students will still need credits to graduate.”

Oroville School District also has a plan in place to use the current bussing route system to deliver and pick up important instructional materials that might be needed for remote learning. In addition, the bussing route system will also be used to provide for the district’s daily food services to students.

Oroville School District has also sent out a brief survey by phone and email regarding the availability of different technologies in the home. These include questions about internet availability and whether the student has access to computers and tablets for competing assignments for remote learning.

Oroville School District staff have created Student Learning Plans (SLP’s) for every student which maps out the work students shall be completing at home. SLP’s will serve as a means to monitor the progress of each student in order to determine supports that will be needed at home, as well as student progress toward grade level expectations and toward meeting graduation requirements. More specifically, SLP’s will assist in monitoring and reporting progress in the following ways:

• Attendance – Students will be required to “attend” at minimum one weekly meeting with a certificated staff member.  This will be done through Zoom, Google Classroom, email, Skype, or a phone call.  The weekly meeting will count for your student’s attendance for the entire week, so it is imperative that your student not miss the meeting.

• Grading – Students are expected to complete all work that is being sent home with/for them. This work will be returned to the teacher for grading, which will be entered into Skyward. The weekly work will also count for your student’s attendance for the entire week, so it is imperative that your student makes progress and completes the work assigned to them.

• Progress Monitoring – Things like attendance, course work, supports that are needed at home, and grades in Skyward will be used to monitor the progress of students, and will be documented on the students’ SLP on a weekly basis. This monitoring will help to document students’ progress through grade level standards, all student learning goals, including students on 504/IEP’s; progress toward the next school year; and progress toward graduation requirements.

Tonasket Supt. McCullough said, “We are in uncharted territory. It goes back to 1980 when Mount St. Helens blew that we had anything even close and that was only a localized closing of schools for a length of time. We are still researching guidance for outdoor facility use.”

He continued, “Our schools serve as a hub for our youth, families, and community. We know that extended school closure will create significant hardships. Children and families count on the routines of the school day. Parents are comforted with the knowledge that their children are surrounded by compassionate and competent professionals who love and care for each student. Contemplating weeks without that structure and stability can seem overwhelming. With this in mind, please know that we are in the process of planning for this unprecedented period of time.”

According to McCullough the mandated school closure has created a whirlwind of unanswered questions for parents and students alike.

“We recognize that other districts may have posted educational plans but with the guidance from the Governor and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) changing almost daily in this fluid situation, we feel it is prudent to wait and allow more time for the dust to settle for OSPI to give us clear and firm guidance. This way we are better able to plan what everything will look like moving forward and less likely to have to revise those plans due to changing guidance from OSPI and the government. Patience is key at this time,” said McCullough.

Tonasket school district will be providing sack breakfasts and lunches to all Pre-K-12 students Monday through Friday through the duration of the school closure. Sack breakfasts and lunches will be delivered through bus transportation services on bus routes once a day as well as a grab and go station in the front of the high school and middle school building. Students or parents must be present at the bus stop to receive meals. Meal deliveries will start on Thursday, March 19. Communication for bus stop times will be made to families.

Beginning on Wednesday, March 18 Oroville School District will be running bus routes once a day in order to deliver both breakfast and lunch to students.  The district promises to communicate with families regarding specific bus stop times and locations. Parents that would like to opt out of a child receiving meal services, should contact the front office of their child’s school.

Child care must be provided for the following groups: Health Care Workers, first responders, homeless, district employees who need to be at work. The school district will organize this service for currently enrolled school-age students up to age 13 whose parents qualify. Students will be grouped into small groups of ten. A district-wide survey will be sent out to determine who needs child care. Surveys are due March 18 by noon. If there is a need, child care will start on March 24.

“We are taking the next few days to plan how we can help our students with enrichment activities during this time away from regular school. Chromebooks and iPads can be checked out this week for students in grades K-12,” said McCullough.

McCullough said OSPI has guided there not be engagement in remote schooling unless there is a guarantee that each child can have equal access to the educational program as well as the required services such as specially designed instruction for children with disabilities, one-to-one support for students, and differentiated instruction. Because of this guidance, all district education programs (High School, Middle School, Elementary School, Choice High School, and Outreach) are canceled during this school closure.

McCullough said the details of graduation are being worked out and discussed.

“It could impact graduation ceremonies but hopefully by that time we are able to have those gatherings. There will have to be looking at how we waive credits so that the kids can graduate. We aren’t going to keep kids from graduating because of this situation.

April 27 is the projected restart of regular school activities and if that happens, McCullough said students and staff will need to be prepared for the possibility of attending school through June 19.

“Please be patient as we work through this. We advise the community to continue to go to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website for accurate information as we work through this. This is a rapidly changing situation,” said McCullough

All actions being taken are a proactive attempt to stop the spread and reduce the peak and arrest the increase of COVID-19.

“We will hopefully get out of this with fewer people getting sick and fewer people dying. We are taking these extreme measures to try and protect the health and safety of people,” said McCullough.

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