About half of Spokane teachers and support staff surveyed earlier this month said they didn’t believe it is safe to return to school buildings this fall.
Those results were sent out to members of the Spokane Education Association, the union currently in talks with Spokane Public Schools administration on how to best prepare for a school year as the coronavirus pandemic continues to grip the region and the United States.
Of the 1,324 people who responded to the survey, 670 said they did not feel that it was safe to return to buildings, with the rest saying they felt current state and federal guidelines were sufficient or should be relaxed.
That’s a split of 50.6% to 49.4%.
Attempts to reach SEA leadership to discuss the survey’s findings were unsuccessful Wednesday.
The school district plans to hold its second in a series of webinars Thursday evening to field questions from parents regarding reopening plans. Ahead of that meeting, the district announced Wednesday its preliminary plans for reopening included a distance learning option at home for the fall, in addition to face-to-face instruction for five days a week for students in kindergarten through fourth grade, and students in higher grades would attend classes in-person on an alternating basis.
Superintendent Adam Swinyard answered several questions regarding these options at the first webinar held last week. Parents who choose to keep their students home should realize that decision could be binding for a while, he said, because staffing decisions will be made based on how many students decide initially to learn online.
“There’s opportunities for some movement, but that would be one of the considerations families would have to think through,” Swinyard said. “That if they decide on the full distance-learning option, that getting back to their neighborhood school might not be an opportunity this school year. It would be based on space available.”
Swinyard also noted that for households with more than one secondary student, the district will make efforts to schedule their children for class on the same day.
The survey results show a clear split among teachers, support specialists, office workers and more on whether it would be safe to go back to school, a decision that will be made in consultation with state and local health and education officials. The district hopes to have a reopening plan in place by Aug. 1, which would then be submitted to the Spokane Public Schools Board of Directors for adoption Aug. 12.
The survey shows 83% of respondents would prefer the district to have and enforce rules on wearing protective face coverings and maintaining 6 feet of social distancing.
Classrooms are being prepped in Spokane schools to keep desks 6 feet apart, and Superintendent for Public Instruction Chris Reykdal has said that masks will be required to be worn in buildings.
Reykdal said in a statement Wednesday he supported the decision from some school districts in Western Washington to begin the school year learning at home, as confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus are on the rise again.
“I know a lot of factors went into these decisions, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for the school board members, administrators, classroom educators, support staff, parents and families, and community partners who landed on these tough decisions after important community engagement,” Reykdal said in the statement.
“These decisions are decided at the local level, and they are within the bounds of the reopening guidance that we provided in June.”
Reykdal acknowledged that face-to-face instruction was preferable to distance learning, but that decisions about reopening would be based on student and faculty safety.
A plurality of those Spokane educators surveyed, 41%, said that they preferred in-classroom instruction with social-distancing measures to full distance learning. A slightly smaller segment of respondents, 38%, said full distance learning should be maintained until social distancing measures are no longer necessary.
Parents last week also asked questions about what online learning platforms would look like. Swinyard said the district has taken steps, especially at the secondary level, to make distance learning easier for families to use in the next school year.
The webinar Thursday will be held on Zoom beginning at 6:30 p.m. The link can be found at the district’s reopening website, spokaneschools.org/reopeningupdates. The school year is scheduled to begin Sept. 3.
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