Moving too quickly for some people and not nearly urgently enough for others, Spokane Public Schools will begin to bring first-graders back to classes on Nov. 9.
“Our community is very divided,” Superintendent Adam Swinyard acknowledged Wednesday night as he guided board members through the numbers behind the district’s measured approach in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have many community members who are adamant that schools should remain closed and an equal number of them communicating with us that schools should (fully) open,” Swinyard said.
For those who would like to see the district move faster, Swinyard and his staff could offer some hope but no guarantees.
The presentation also included a timetable for second-graders – phasing-in to commence on Nov. 30.
Board President Jerrall Haynes, however, worried “that we will disappoint families if that doesn’t happen.”
Swinyard replied that the Nov. 30 date is tentative.
He also reiterated – as he has at every meeting concerning COVID-19 – that the district is in constant contact with the Spokane Public Health District and will follow its guidelines and not bend to public opinion.
“We’re going to rely on our health offices and the state and local level at what direction we should go,” Swinyard said.
In the short term, that means phasing in first-graders on an alternating A/B schedule, beginning Nov. 9. That schedule would end on Nov. 19; on Nov. 20, all first-graders would be back in buildings – unless their parents opted out.
Asked by board member Mike Wiser whether the process could speed up, given the encouraging numbers so far, Swinyard compared the behaviors of kindergartners and first-graders.
Kindergartners have known no other classroom regimen, and have been compliant regarding masks and other protocols. First-graders, on the other hand, come in with habits that must be unlearned.
That concern was raised by first-grade teachers, Swinyard said.
Swinyard said the district also wanted more time to examine transmission rates inside schools. So far, only one transmission (out of 34) has occurred inside schools.
Swinyard also shared current data, which compares favorably with districts that have moved more aggressively to in-person learning.
As of Tuesday, Spokane Public Schools had 34 positive cases and 172 individuals in quarantine.
As of Wednesday, the Mead School District – which has roughly one-third the enrollment of Spokane – had 24 positive cases in the past two weeks, with 220 people in quarantine.
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