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Message from the Superintendent: November Update regarding SVSD In-Person Learning Plan

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November 20, 2020

 

Dear SVSD Families and Staff,

 

I hope this update finds you all well!  

 

First, I want to thank each of you for your tireless role in supporting Snoqualmie Valley students in their learning and their wellness during these challenging times.  Parents, guardians, caregivers, teachers, all support staff – your love and care for your students, coupled with your adaptability and resilience as this public health crisis continues, have been critical to the successes achieved so far with distance learning. With Thanksgiving ahead, I am thankful for your partnership during this pandemic.

 

As you know, we are currently experiencing another surge in COVID-19 cases, in our state and throughout the nation. In response, Governor Inslee implemented new restrictions over the next month to help curb transmission. The Governor also confirmed that all K-12 schools, higher education, and childcare are exempt from the new restrictions and should continue follow current guidance, which encourages districts to consider a variety of factors when deciding when and how to resume in-person learning. (This includes monitoring daily public health reports on the COVID Data Dashboard of confirmed positive cases, hospitalization rates, and reproductive rates over 2 weeks to track trends by geography – which unfortunately, all have been increasing.)

 

I, like many of you, find the recent uptick in cases very concerning as we continue to wrestle with the question of when can we safely bring more students back into our buildings. Please know that we are very eager to bring students back to support their social, emotional and academic well-being through in-person connections – a desire that parents and staff alike have expressed to me personally.  It is why so many of us have devoted our careers to educating children. We have been working non-stop to prepare our schools, train our staff, and come up with new ways to support 1:1 or small-group student connections, within the COVID safety parameters we now must operate.

 

Even so, the pandemic surge demonstrates that in order to bring students back, as a community, we must do everything we can for the safety of our students and staff.  Clearly, continued diligence to do what is needed -- in our homes, neighborhoods, businesses, parks, and throughout the community -- will be key to being able to re-open our schools.  

 

While I have not seen data or research that states educational interactions with students will increase community transmission rates, it does not make sense, at this time, to bring students back when the rates in the community are consistently climbing higher week over week. Therefore, we have decided to postpone bringing K-12 students back until after Winter Break, when we will again look to science and other factors related to re-opening our schools.  

 

In the meantime, we will continue to plan and develop our systems, so that when we are able to bring students back, we will be ready.  While most of our students are continuing with Distance Learning 2.0, here are some steps related to in-person opportunities that are also in the works:

 

  • Currently, public health does not recommend stopping any on-going educational opportunities for students currently attending school -- especially our most vulnerable and youngest learners. Therefore, our district will continue the Life Skills, Transition Learning Center, Specialty and Preschool programs that have resumed in-person instruction on modified schedules thus far. (We are grateful to our dedicated Special Education staff and their successful work in person with their students over the past few weeks.)

 

  • Elementary schools: For families who selected the AM/PM hybrid learning model, we will work to notify parents in mid-December (prior to winter break) if their K-5 student will be assigned to the AM or PM cohort. This will provide families some time to plan for childcare arrangements, if needed, when conditions improve to resume school in-person. We’ll continue to work on rostering/scheduling, AM/PM bus routing, balancing class sizes, parent survey requests, staffing considerations, etc.  (For questions about SVSD safety and COVID response plans, see our Return-to-School Safety Guidelines for Families.)

 

  • Middle school level: We know early adolescence is crucial time for social interactions and supportive conversations with a range of adults. We also know some of our 6-8 students are struggling with remote learning and the lack of a connection to school. Therefore, our middle schools recently introduced an optional “soft start” plan to invite students who chose the hybrid learning model to come to school for a half-day session with a small group from their grade level. This is a small first step to help boost our student’s emotional well-being, build relationships and teach the new in-person routine.  On their assigned day, they will learn what is expected under the new COVID rules, reconnect with their school (or attend for the first time if in 6th grade), meet their principals, see some classmates, possibly meet some teachers, and hopefully boost their social/emotional outlook. They practice health attestations, will bring their assigned device from home and “attend” their first three online classes seated socially-distanced in a large meeting areas such as a Commons, and remain in a small cohort. Upon dismissal around noon, students will be handed a sack lunch to eat at home. While there will be adult supervision, the district is not providing transportation or in-person instruction at this time. (See details.)

 

  • High school level: Additionally, we have been able to successfully bring back some of our student athletes. The MSHS athletics department started (optional) conditioning opportunities this week, modified for current safety requirements. Students and coaches must keep in pods of 6 or fewer, socially distance themselves, remain outdoors for all practice activities, and wear masks the entire time. (See details.) Students have been extremely grateful for the opportunity!  Pending COVID activity and the weather, it’s a cautious first step toward expanding support for social emotional health.

 

We will continue conversations with our union leaders, public health officials and other organizations, with whom we have been collaborating to guide our decision making. Please know that I have appreciated the many emails and letters from families, staff and community members alike, expressing their thoughts, concerns, ideas and solutions. I value, too, the broad range of perspectives and passions that are represented in our community.  We will continue to consider these conversations in our decision-making process and provide updates when possible.

 

In the meantime, we hope you will engage in Parent-Teacher Conferences, November 20-25.  Then, enjoy a safe, relaxing and wonderful Thanksgiving!  

 

With Gratitude,

 

Robert W. Manahan, Ed. D

Superintendent, Snoqualmie Valley School District