Seeking to give families a choice about their children’s education, Mead School District board of directors approved a hybrid model Thursday night that will do just that.
Seizing what board member Michael Cannon called “a great middle ground,” the board unanimously approved a plan that would give parents the option of in-person or distance learning during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
When the school year begins in early September, elementary children of consenting parents will attend full-time.
Middle and high school students in Spokane County’s third-largest district will receive in-person lessons 2½ days a week and distance learning the rest of the time.
The board was given three options by Superintendent Shawn Woodward and his staff: full-time distance learning, full-time in-person instruction or a hybrid.
As hundreds of parents listened to the 90-minute call-in Zoom meeting, board members chose the third option.
“It’s a no-win solution,” Vice President Chad Burchard said. “I am concerned that if we have our first case or two, what does that do to us? But I’m not a believer that we make a decision in fear.”
The board’s decision goes against the recommendations issued earlier by the Spokane Regional Health District, Gov. Jay Inslee and the state superintendent’s office, but follows the wishes of 69% of district families surveyed this week.
Regardless of how they begin the school year, parents will have the option to change learning models if they regret their initial choice.
Mead’s decision also may tip the scales toward in-person instruction by other local districts. Spokane County’s two largest districts, Spokane and Central Valley, will begin the year with distance learning only, as will Cheney. Most of the others are still on the fence.
Parental choice played a big part in the board’s choice, but there were other factors.
“One of the things that has kept me awake at night, is that we may be living with this virus for some time,” Green said.
“One of the things we forget to recognize is the central roles that schools play in the lives of our families and not just going to school every day,” Green said. “There’s an economic impact to school closures.”
On a day when Spokane County reported a record 175 new cases of coronavirus, several board members raised the issue of risk – to children, teachers and even to the district should infections lead to lawsuits.
“I feel like we’re responsible for about 10,500 students, and we’re also responsible for the parents and the grandparents who live in the Mead School District,” board member Bob Olson said.
“But I know that our staff is going to do everything to make sure our children and staff are safe,” Olson said.
Woodward said a staff survey revealed about 10% of teachers have conditions that would preclude a return to the classroom. Those teachers will be moved to distance learning, Woodward said.
Woodward said, like other districts, Mead has been “in conversation” with its insurers, but offered no definitive answer on the possibility of lawsuits stemming from exposure.
Moving forward, the district has many details to work out.
Woodward acknowledged the district has a “giant math puzzle ahead of us.”
In coming days, students will be asked to opt into distance or in-person learning models. After results are compiled, Woodward said the district will look at overall staffing.
It’s also possible that some elementary students may need to be moved from their neighborhood schools in order to comply with social-distancing requirements.
During the meeting, Woodward asked if the school board could vote to delay the start of school for about two weeks. No decision was made Thursday.
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