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Schools stress online learning as building closures continue

The two largest school districts in Spokane County are doing their best to address the needs of students and families as the COVID-19 pandemic makes that task increasingly difficult.

However, that job could get tougher as the closure drags on and some families feel the effects of unemployment, poverty and isolation.

“Please don’t hesitate to reach out,” said Adam Swinyard, associate superintendent in Spokane, who said he was concerned that food insecurity and domestic violence may increase as the pandemic deepens.

Speaking Monday at the Spokane Regional Health Building, Swinyard and Marla Nunberg, director of communications at the Central Valley School District, updated the public on their progress in three main areas: food, child care and academic support.

For the most part, the news was good.

Swinyard touted Spokane’s ability to meet the demand for laptops as students work through the paper-and-pencil lessons distributed as schools closed on March 17.

“Our reliance on virtual learning will increase” in coming weeks, said Swinyard, who noted that the district has checked out 3,500 laptops out of 4,000 requests.

Connectivity has been aided by wireless providers such as Comcast, Verizon and AT&T waiving or lowering some fees.

As learning moves online, Swinyard cautioned that the “educational experience will vary by grade level” for the district’s 31,000 students.

The district has ramped up food provisions, giving out free lunches and breakfasts at 24 sites and adding bus services to more-distant neighborhoods.

The district’s daily efforts have been augmented on the weekends by Second Harvest and Bite2Go.

“What’s so great is our ability to come together during a challenging time,” Swinyard said.

Child care demand has been more difficult, with availability only for children of first responders and essential medical personnel. The district is operating at three sites, with only 25 children per site because of social-distancing restrictions.

The story has been similar in the 15,000-student Central Valley School District.

Since the closure on March 17, “we showed the care and compassion that we are known for,” Nunberg said.

Meal service began a day after schools closed, with the original 11 sites now up to 15.

Child care is available for children in grades K-5 for children of first responders and essential medical personnel.

Nunberg said the district has met demand by distributing 3,600 laptops so far.

“The teachers are excited to connect with their students,” she said.