Dear Peninsula School District Community,
Like you, we have been watching the COVID-19 case rates soar in our nation, state, and county. Last Sunday Governor Inslee implemented a set of restrictions and made recommendations, for four weeks, to preserve the public’s well-being and save lives. Limits on indoor activities were set and additionally, he requested that anyone who travels over the holiday to voluntarily quarantine when they return. Although schools are specifically not included in those actions, there are questions that confront us, such as what we should do about staff or students who travel.
Travel Restrictions and Voluntary Quarantine
Because the governor made these restrictions voluntary, we do not want to overstep, but we feel it is appropriate to ask that parents keep children who travel home from school in compliance with the governor’s request. Similarly, we are requesting that staff who travel out of state would also voluntarily quarantine.
COVID-19 Testing Program and Impact on In-Person Learning
A significant second issue is that of our continuing efforts to operate schools both in-person and remotely. As you have heard, the next step in our plans is to extend the K-1 in-person to K-2. The obvious difficulty is adding children in the buildings at the very time COVID-19 rates are greatly increasing. On the plus side, our K-1 has been very successful and the countermeasures are working. That suggests we can add the 2nd grade safely. On the other hand, many staff are very anxious for their own safety. I believe it is difficult to justify congregating more bodies in the schools at the very time health officials are pleading with all of us to stay out of larger groupings.
In partial answer to the issue of serving some students in-person, we have been working with the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department (TPCHD) on a pilot program to add a testing capability to our schools. This would be one of the first in the state and it would enable the district to provide access to testing and rapid results so that any infection or outbreak can be dealt with quickly.
We are also sending a separate communication that provides much more detail, background and Q&A regarding that testing pilot program. In brief, this program involves weekly, no-cost, and voluntary COVID-19 rapid antigen testing of students and staff.
Delay of In-Person Learning for 2nd Grade
Unfortunately, the addition of that pilot program cannot offset the tremendous anxiety we are seeing in our community and throughout the schools and families. The case rates have quadrupled the “High” threshold. I believe we have little choice but to place the 2nd grade return on hold. With the continuing upward spike and the impending holiday period, we cannot foresee a definite opportunity. We will watch the health metrics for any opportunity to advance this next step. In the meantime, we are maintaining the program to serve K-1, special education, and other selected small groups of students, in-person. The evidence is clear that this has not contributed to any acceleration in virus transmission.
We thank you for your understanding and partnership as we strive to provide a safe, quality educational experience for our students.
Dr. Art Jarvis