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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  K-12 education

When will first-graders at SPS come back? District contemplates next steps on reopening

UPDATED: Thu., Oct. 22, 2020

The Spokane Public Schools board plans to rename some schools with an eye toward diversity.  (JESSE TINSLEY)
The Spokane Public Schools board plans to rename some schools with an eye toward diversity. (JESSE TINSLEY)

The protesters outside begged to disagree, but Spokane Public Schools board members and staff offered a positive outlook Wednesday night on the district’s cautious approach in bringing students back to buildings.

This week saw the district bring back 90% of its kindergartners, or about 2,000, in what Superintendent Adam Swinyard described as “deliberate, intentional process.”

“The feedback thus far has been overwhelmingly positive, not without challenges, but it’s been very positive,” Swinyard said. “Now we’re beginning the discussions of what the potential timeline might look like for our first-grade students.”

Swinyard and staffers described the protocols happening at the district’s 34 elementary schools, including the health attestations that must be filled out by every student before entering the building, cleaning procedures and social distancing in the classroom.

Swinyard said, anecdotally at least, kindergartners are better behaved with less horseplay because of social distancing requirements.

He also cited the positive numbers in the district’s current COVID-19 dashboard: 10 positive cases and 55 people quarantined in a district of more than 30,000 students.

“Thus far, we are very optimistic about the data that is coming in,” Swinyard said.

“The numbers look good,” board member Nikki Lockwood concurred.

They also compare favorably with those in the Coeur d’Alene School District, which began the year in a blended model, moved to full in-person learning on Oct. 5 and is pivoting back in the face of a COVID-19 surge.

With an enrollment one-third that of Spokane, Coeur d’Alene has more than 400 students in quarantine after reporting another six positive tests and 70 quarantines in the past two days.

Post Falls, which moved to full in-person learning on Oct. 12, showed 14 active cases on its weekly dashboard, which was updated on Wednesday. The district of 5,300 students has chosen not to reveal how many students and staff have been quarantined.

Mead also has seen higher numbers.

As of Thursday, the district had 18 positive cases and 204 people in quarantine.

Of those, 92 quarantines stemmed from close contacts at Mead High School and another 40 at Mt. Spokane High School.

Spokane will continue at a deliberate pace. The next dashboard will be posted on Friday; if the numbers are encouraging, the district will probably push forward with a plan to bring back first-graders.

Before that occurs, Swinyard told board members that the district needs to have listening sessions with teachers, then “take a closer examination on Monday and Tuesday, and then engaging you on Wednesday.”

The board is expected to hold a special meeting on Wednesday to look at bringing back more students.

That could happen as soon as early as Nov. 2, but based on its kindergarten timetable, it’s more likely to begin a week later.

Meanwhile, a parent group, Open Spokane Schools, held another rally to urge that families be given the choice on whether their children return to buildings.

Despite the evening chill, the protest drew about two dozen parents and children to the district’s downtown office.

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