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Sunday, September 27, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  K-12 education

SPS takes first steps toward in-person learning

UPDATED: Thu., Sept. 10, 2020

The Spokane Public Schools district office at Main Avenue and Bernard Street. The school board could appoint a new member early this week.  (JESSE TINSLEY)
The Spokane Public Schools district office at Main Avenue and Bernard Street. The school board could appoint a new member early this week. (JESSE TINSLEY)

For the first time since March, officials at Spokane Public Schools are openly talking about bringing students back to class.

During a back-to-school update at Wednesday night’s school board meeting, director Mike Wiser cited improving COVID-19 metrics in Spokane County before asking staff about timetables for in-person learning.

Spokane’s 31,000 students will begin the year Monday with distance learning only, but Superintendent Adam Swinyard said the district is already taking the first steps toward visualizing what face-to-face learning would look like.

That might be months away, but it’s a start.

“We’re starting to have those conversations and finalize some of those details with the Spokane Education Association,” said Swinyard, who added that the district is in the initial stages of drafting a communication plan.

A critical piece of that plan would be the timetable for pivoting from one learning model to the next, or as Swinyard called it, “the turnaround from decision point to implementation.”

For example, if infection rates continue to drop and the Spokane Regional Health District recommends that Spokane could move to a hybrid model, how many days would that take?

Swinyard said board members should expect to see more information “as early as next week.”

There are many variables in a return to a mixed or hybrid model.

As in other districts, there is general agreement among staff that the youngest students will be brought back first.

But how many grades? And would those students be divided into cohorts in order to minimize the risk of infection?

SRHD health officer Dr. Bob Lutz said Thursday that early learners – kindergartners through second-graders – “should be the focus of in-person instruction.”

Associate Superintendent Mark Anderson said the staff has been working since last month to prepare socially distanced classrooms intended for kindergarten through fourth grade.

Anderson said that work is 70% complete with a goal “to be ready to go when we get the green light.”

Based on Swinyard’s comments earlier this week, that signal will come from Lutz and the health district.

“We want to do it methodically,” Swinyard said.

So does Lutz, who said that he’s encouraged by the steady drop in the 14-day rolling average of new positive COVID-19 tests.

On Wednesday, it was 93 per 100,000 – within hailing distance of Lutz’s recommendation of a maximum of 75 confirmed infections per 100,000 to move to a hybrid model.

Lutz said the county needs to “demonstrate that it is trending downward” for three to four weeks before he would recommend a change.

“None of us feels comfortable pivoting too quickly,” Lutz said.

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