Below is a message from Superintendent Jarvis about Governor Inslee’s Thursday, March 25 adoption of the updated CDC guidelines for minimum distance between students in classroom settings.
In addition, we have prepared a video discussion with Superintendent Jarvis that expands upon the points outlined in the letter below.
Dear Peninsula School District Community,
Yesterday was a big day for our steady march back to in-person learning in Washington State. Governor Inslee issued an order amending the distancing requirement for students in school.
The six-foot requirement that has been in place since March 2020 has now become a three-foot minimum separation requirement for students. That change came about following the CDC altering the recommendation on the national level. It is also the change that I, and the majority of school superintendents, have repeatedly requested.
At last night's board meeting, we discussed this changed guidance and the complications that come with the determination. I believe this change is an absolute necessity to enable our planning for the return of students in the fall of 2021. I am equally convinced that any immediate switch to our learning models this spring will not be wise nor feasible.
As I shared with the board, the first inkling of some of the complications comes in the governor’s order itself. The three-foot distance is for students in classroom settings, not for the adults, and not for the adults interacting with the students. That is more than a simple issue as you can picture the normal interactions in a school and classroom.
Equally complicated is the reality that the minimum distance change does not include certain settings like P.E. or music. Furthermore, times like breakfast and lunch when students do not wear masks would continue to require six-foot distances. In these COVID times, we are generally not able to use the lunchrooms, and students are therefore eating in their rooms at the elementary school level in particular. This would put teachers and students in the position that they could sometimes be in desks three feet apart, and required to be at six feet other times – thereby making that unworkable in the typical classroom.
Beyond a variety of restrictions included within the order, even more severe complications are identified as we consider any changes to the present hybrid learning operations. Many of you are aware that we have recently completed our efforts to get in-person access for all students from preschool age through high school. Those efforts took lengthy, detailed planning because of the intricacy of the safety countermeasures required.
Three quick examples of the complications would include transportation, ingress and egress of students, and the realities involved in the COVID-19 world that includes health department routines involving those who may test positive. Something such as combining the elementary students who currently attend AM and PM would instantly challenge the entire system.
Not only would this require revamping the entire school bus routing and loading system, but it would again shuffle the schedules for all drivers. The lineup to enter school would be extended by essentially having both halves of the student body now arriving at the same time with attestation forms and temperature taking. The three-foot amendment does not change the health department procedure regarding “close contact” follow-up. That standard would continue to quarantine anyone who was determined to be within six feet of a confirmed COVID-19 positive case, even though students had been operating within three feet all day.
To consider changing the model at grades six through twelve would necessitate changes to all student schedules and teachers, and that would be shortly after the recent rescheduling required to implement the hybrid schedules. This would create instant chaos.
Lastly, while there are many other details that would be significant to make any changes this spring, a primary one involves severely disrupting our teachers and the staff as a whole. Many hours of planning have resulted in the present hybrid models of instruction and stringent efforts to keep staff safe. Formal agreements regarding those procedures and practices cannot be set aside on short notice without engaging in new discussions to replace the labor agreements with our 1,200 staff members. One of the lessons learned this past 12 months has been that any notion of quick “pivoting” does not work within large school systems or businesses.
In short, the three-foot distancing represents a challenge that we believe is more disruptive than beneficial for the spring, but it also opens the door unconditionally for the fall. We will be focusing our efforts on a positive conclusion to this school year and a successful launch of the 2021-2022 school year. In the coming weeks, our families and students will be able to make decisions about their learning options for this next year. Please watch for communications from the district and from your schools.
We thank all of you for the wonderful cooperation that has enabled us to bring students back this year. Please continue to help keep COVID-19 at bay by practicing all of the recommended safety procedures.