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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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West Valley joins trend, will start year with distance learning only

UPDATED: Mon., Aug. 17, 2020

Joining the majority of districts in Spokane County, the West Valley School District voted unanimously Monday night to begin the year with distance learning only.

And like their counterparts in most other districts, board members acknowledged the community-wide frustration as they reached a final decision.

“Like everyone else, I hope it doesn’t last a long time,” board President Robert Dompier said.

“It’s a small price to pay to get our kids back to school,” board member Pam McLeod said.

During a one-hour meeting, board members heard district administrators present a model that relies heavily on metrics from the Spokane County Health District.

West Valley, which begins classes on Sept. 9, was the last major district in Spokane County to formally approve a back-to-school plan.

West Valley’s model calls for a phase-in to hybrid on-site learning for one or two days a week. Phase-in would probably begin one grade level at a time, beginning with the youngest students.

Until then, the 3,712 students will learn from district teachers through the West Valley Online Academy, the model that was in the works since earlier this month as Spokane County saw a spike in positive tests for COVID-19. However, numbers have remained steady or declined slightly this month, raising hopes among some families that in-person learning will happen sooner rather than later.

Earlier on Monday, public health officer Bob Lutz said that during the past two weeks, the incidence rate in Spokane County has dropped from 220 cases per 100,000 people to 202 cases.

However, that’s still well above the threshold of 75 cases per 100,000 that Lutz recommended as a guideline for schools to reconsider opening.

West Valley’s decision means that out of about 85,000 K-12 students in the county, roughly three-quarters will begin the year with distance learning only.

Most are in the county’s two largest districts, Spokane (with an enrollment of about 31,000) and Central Valley (15,000), which made that commitment on Aug. 3.

Others starting with distance learning only are Cheney, Medical Lake and Nine Mile Falls .

The biggest exceptions are Mead and East Valley, which adopted hybrid models.

Riverside, Deer Park, Freeman and Liberty have adopted hybrid models, all within the last week and each with a slightly different approach.

Freeman has settled on a model that’s unique to the area, with kindergartners through second-graders divided into eight-person cohorts on campus one day a week and distance learning the other four days.

Other students will begin with full distance learning.

Riverside will begin with in-person learning on a rotating schedule. Through fifth grade, students will attend classes twice a week, one group on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other on Thursdays and Fridays.

Students with disabilities and without internet will have access Wednesday and possibly more days.

Liberty will begin with distance learning when school begins Sept. 2, but shift to an A/B hybrid schedule two weeks later.

Deer Park has adopted a model similar to other districts, with in-person learning on a split schedule.

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