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More Spokane County elementary students going back to school but Health District backs remote learning for upper grades

UPDATED: Tue., Nov. 17, 2020

For parents of second-graders in Spokane Public Schools, there’s reason to be thankful this week; likewise for families in the Central Valley School District, where third-graders went back to buildings on Monday.

However, it appears that children in the upper grades of Spokane County’s two largest districts will remain in distance learning for the foreseeable future as COVID-19 metrics worsen.

In a statement issued Tuesday afternoon, the Spokane Regional Health District reiterated its recommendation “to be in favor of allowing early learners (preK-2) to convert to in-person school.”

Most educators and health officials have agreed that younger learners have a greater need for in-person learning and are also more agreeable to wearing masks than older students.

The statement continues: “We recommend a pause in transitioning older grades who are not already attending in-person school” as of Monday night.

And while the district emphasized that it was just a recommendation, it was clear that Spokane could go ahead with phasing in second-graders beginning Nov. 30.

Central Valley had been slightly more ambitious, with third-graders making the transition on Monday; however, it appears doubtful that the district will add fourth-graders any time soon.

“What they said is that they approve of the continuation of the grade levels that have been put into place so far,” said Marla Nunberg, director of communications at Central Valley.

“We will continue to work with the health district,” Nunberg said.

Spokane Superintendent Adam Swinyard said that conversations with the health district this week confirmed the district’s move to bring second-graders back to buildings.

“We’ve been in consultation with the health district, and they’ve continued to support our phasing plan for K-2,” Swinyard said Tuesday.

“We’ve heard a consistent message that their guidance for K-2 remains in place, because of the extremely low rate of transmission inside schools,” Swinyard said.

Jeremy Shay, president of the Spokane Education Association, praised the district and teachers for “working since last summer to problem-solve.”

“However, teachers are very concerned about the COVID numbers in the community,” Shay said.

Spokane County has seen record COVID-19 metrics in recent days, with 942 new cases reported during the weekend and another 234 on Tuesday.

That increase was mirrored again in schools.

In the Mead School District, 461 people were in quarantine as of Friday. By Monday, that had risen to 498 and on Tuesday to 579, with 70 people testing positive during that period.

Levels were relatively stable in Central Valley: 281 in quarantine on Friday, 254 on Tuesday and 280 as of Tuesday afternoon.

Spokane Public Schools, which posts a weekly dashboard, reported 192 people quarantined as of Friday, up from 109 the week before.

Lincoln Heights Elementary had 41 quarantines. However, the district reported no in-school transmissions.

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