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News >  Education

‘When will seniors ever get back to school?’

UPDATED: Fri., Nov. 20, 2020

Winton Elementary kindergartener Colter Bodnar wears a mask while drawing a self portrait during class on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020.  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)
Winton Elementary kindergartener Colter Bodnar wears a mask while drawing a self portrait during class on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020. (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)

The leadership of Spokane Public Schools got it from both sides this week over the pace of its move to bring children back to in-person learning.

That’s nothing new. Superintendent Adam Swinyard’s in-box is filled every day with contrary opinions that have bedeviled the district since before the school year began.

The district’s deliberate pace is too fast for some, unbearably sluggish for others, as board members were reminded again during a Zoom meeting Wednesday night.

Reminded, too, of the tightrope being walked by the leadership at almost every school district in the country.

This time the message came from close to home.

Sophie Winterroth, one of the board’s two student advisors and a senior at Shadle Park High School, recalled some recent conversations with her classmates, then posed the big question.

“When will seniors ever get back to school?” Winterroth asked.

After a pause, Swinyard and board President Jerrall Haynes said he could offer no promises, only the assurance that the district is doing everything it can within the constraints of discouraging coronavirus numbers.

For his part, Swinyard said that the district is committed to phasing in students “predicated on the guidance of our health officials.”

For now that means the district will go no further than following through on its commitment to bring 2nd-graders back to class beginning Nov. 30.

“That’s a very tough question,” Haynes acknowledged. “To be 100% honest with you, we don’t have a predetermined date for high schools, much less seniors.”

A few minutes later, Winterroth offered another public glimpse into the COVID-disrupted lives of teenagers in Spokane.

She related that in her home room, “We have days where we just talk about our lives,” Winterroth said. She added that many kids are working “because their family needs them” after a parent lost their job.

“Overall it’s been a little rocky,” said Winterroth, who said she’s been working part-time 5 days a week.

Later in the meeting, during the public comment period, the board heard from a community member, Kelly Crawford, who said the district was moving too quickly.

“The health district says to move with caution, but we are moving forward with another grade just as we are entering the holiday season,” Crawford said.

Crawford said the district should pause and follow the example of Seattle where school officials are waiting for numbers to be manageable instead of regularly disrupting learning with hundreds of quarantines.

As of Wednesday, Spokane Schools had 232 people under quarantine. However, since the school year began, only two cases out of 70 were the result of in-school contact.

COVID numbers remained high in Spokane County this week, but showed signs of stabilizing.

County-wide, at least 1,365 students and staff in public schools are under quarantine.

The hotspot continues to be in the Mead School District, which had 61 people test positive in the last 14 days, with 554 quarantined as a result. That number is up from a week ago but down slightly from Thursday’s high of 595.

Central Valley’s numbers are also stable, with 51 current positives and 279 in quarantine.

However, West Valley School District has seen a spike this week, with 19 positive tests in the last 14 days and 112 people quarantined.

Of those, 36 are at West Valley High School. In response, the school has suspended all in-person learning.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we are taking proactive steps to deep clean and sanitize the building to reopen on Monday, Dec. 7 for in-person student support services,” Principal Ryan Mulvey said in a letter to parents.

Please note that teachers will continue providing educational services to students through next week.

In the Deer Park School District, 14 people have tested positive in the last two weeks, with 84 in quarantine.

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