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Mead teachers blast back-to-school model

Aug. 24, 2020 Updated Mon., Aug. 24, 2020 at 9:18 p.m.

The Mead School District board of directors should reconsider its decision to allow most children to return for face-to-face learning this fall, dozens of teachers told the school board Monday night.

With the school year less than three weeks away, teachers raised concerns about health protocols, student and staff safety and what they feel is a general lack of preparedness in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Celeste Simone, a 3rd-grade teacher at Prairie View Elementary School, said she cried when she saw the socially-distanced layout for her classroom.

“I can’t even imagine doing this to kids. I can’t run small groups, I can’t run team-based projects, I can’t do hands-on learning under this structure,” Simone said.

“What are we asking our kids to do for 6 hours a day?” Simone said. “I beg you to think outside the box and come up with a different plan.”

The current plan, adopted Aug. 5 against the recommendation of the Spokane Regional Health District, calls for full face-to-face learning for grades K-5 and a rotating schedule for secondary students.

During the meeting, board President Carmen Green acknowledged that Spokane County health officer Dr. Bob Lutz hasn’t approved the plan.

Recalling past conversations, Green said Lutz “is willing to work with us … but he’s not happy with our decision.”

“He would have preferred that we would open with distance learning,” Green said.

Mead isn’t the only district to approve an in-person model. However, with more than 10,000 students, it’s the largest in Spokane County to do so.

Teachers, led by Mead Education President Toby Doolittle, expressed that same sentiment Monday night.

“We are stuffing too many elementary students in a classroom,” said Doolittle, who also said that about 60% of Mead teachers opposed to the plan.

“We are gravely concerned that the District plans require some students to sit with their knees and noses against the whiteboard for over 5 hours each day,” Doolittle said.

Doolittle added that the district has provided “minimal guidance” on how library, music and physical education specialists will deliver effective lessons.

To allow more time to prepare, the board voted two weeks ago to delay the first day of school to Sept. 14.

Nevertheless, Doolittle said the district “is not prepared to start. So far discussions reveal glaring holes in the district’s back-to-school plans.”

Elementary teacher Shari Hartwig, a 30-year veteran, said she was “concerned for the learning environment for my students.

“Most likely I will have 30 kids in a gymnasium,” Hartwig said. “I just don’t feel like this is an appropriate option to put them into.”

Tracy Taigen, a Mead parent and registered nurse, offered a rebuttal to the teachers’ arguments.

“I know how kids are not getting sick with it,” Taigen said. “We are not seeing children coming in struggling with this virus, but we are seeing suicides, overdoses and lack of community with this virus.”

“I’m glad that Mead has come in and advocated for children,” Taigen said.

For board member, Michael Cannon, the board’s decision on Aug. 6 was about choice.

“I respect all of those concerns,” Cannon said. “But almost three-fourths of our community needs and wants this option. Some people need this option.”

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