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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Back to school from A to Z, coronavirus edition

Ready for school in the midst of a pandemic?

Don’t worry – no one else is either.

But if parents, teachers and children have learned anything this year, it’s a few new vocabulary words.

Just in time for the start of the school year, here’s a refresher course:

A is for Accountabilty. Would-be slackers beware: Teachers will be taking names and making grades. That wasn’t always the case last spring, as schools scrambled to adapt to distance learning following statewide school closures. This year, schools promise that students will be held accountable, from the first virtual bell to the end of the day.

B is for Backpacks. Your old friend will be closer than ever this year, especially in middle school and high school. Most school districts have made lockers off limits, which means if and when you’re back in the classroom you’ll be toting a heavier-than-ever backpack from one class to the next.

C is Cohorts. Think of it as a way to make some lasting friendships. To lessen the risk of infection, many schools are keeping groups of students together for a long period of time. The idea is to limit cross-over of students and reduce contact with shared surfaces.

D is for Distancing. This doesn’t mean teachers will be walking around with 6-foot-long rulers, but students will be expected to at least attempt to maintain space whenever possible. The operative word here is “attempt”; no one expects total compliance, but try to do your best.

E is for Enrollment. This is a touchy subject for public school districts, which are expected to lose anywhere from 2% and 4% of their students this fall as parents move the children to private schools, learning pods or home-schooling. That means less state money for districts – just one more headache in a year of many for educators.

F is for Face Covering. They’re mandatory in almost every district, so why not make a fashion statement and wear something stylish? Most importantly: wear one that covers your mouth and nose with a snug fit.

G is for Gap. The learning gap between low-income families and others was laid bare last spring, when many children from poor families were cut off from lessons because they didn’t have computers or internet connectivity. Districts are trying to close the gap, but there’s still a long way to go.

H is for Hybrid. This has less to do with the make of your car than how many times you’ll be driving your child to school. For most parents in Spokane County, that means not at all. Some schools have adopted a hybrid model, with students going to buildings twice a week and some just once.

I is for Incubation. The biggest wild card of the new school year, it’s defined as the period between when a person gets infected and when they start showing symptoms. The Covid-19 incubation period of 2-14 days will affect many decisions such as quarantines.

J is for Janitors. Thanks to hard-working custodians, schools have never been this clean. Be sure to thank them, at least with a friendly wave. Someday you might even give them a hug.

K is for Kitchen. The food will be as delicious and nutritious as ever, but don’t expect a lot of choices. In another concession to COVID-19, many districts have scaled back their menus. And if you bring a bag lunch, don’t think you can trade that bologna sandwich for something better, because you’ll be sitting at least 6 feet away from everyone else.

L is for Lockdown. It happened last spring, when Washington Gov. Jay Inslee ordered all schools to close, and it could occur again. Even though infection numbers are trending downward, a spike in COVID cases could lead a regional health district to close a building or even an entire district.

M is for Metrics. Every day, schools are checking the latest numbers from Spokane and other health districts. They include daily new cases, death rates, positive tests and other metrics that will drive recommendations on opening classrooms – or shutting them.

N is for Nurses. Even before COVID, there weren’t enough of them in most schools in Washington or Idaho. This fall their jobs will be tougher than ever, as they prepare for every possible scenario in addition to their regular duties.

O is for On-Time. Late sleepers, beware. Districts know when you sign on for the beginning of the school day. This isn’t Big Brother stuff, but your teacher knows whether or not you’ve signed into class.

P is for Pivoting. It’s no simple matter for districts to shift from distance-learning to in-person lessons. It’s even harder to go the other way, should infections spike. For that reason, expect Spokane Public Schools and other districts to be very cautious when they finally make the move.

Q is for Quarantine. Nobody wants this. If a student is infected, everyone in the class will probably be sent home for 14 days or more.

R is Readiness. Everyone agrees that learning suffered last spring. Combined with the usual “summer slide,” kids have lost a lot of ground since last spring. Districts tried the bridge the gap with optional online curriculum, but most students can expect a heavy dose of review work this month.

S is for Seats. They will never be this clean (thanks to those janitors), but don’t expect that you can scoot yourself closer to your friend.

T is for Teams. Officially known as Microsoft Teams, it will serve as the virtual classroom in Spokane Public Schools and many others during distance learning. Not only will teachers be able to see their students’ faces, but kids will be able to see each other.

U is for Underlying Condition. Some students will get an unpleasant surprise when they go back to school and their favorite teacher isn’t there. Some older teachers have elected to retire, while some with underlying conditions have chosen to work only in distance learning.

V is for Vaping. I’s been almost 6 months since someone got caught in the bathroom stall. However, given the recent studies that link vaping to increased COVID risk among teens, don’t expect to get off easy if you’re caught.

W is for Wireless connections. Many families don’t have them, and not just in rural communities. The lack of connectivity was a major problem last spring as districts were thrown into distance learning. Districts have invested heavily in laptops, but still haven’t solved the problem of connectivity.

X is for X-factor. Perhaps a successful vaccine will appear, hastening the end of COVID-19; or infection rates spike and schools most move backward – we just don’t know.

Y is for Yelling. Don’t do it, even when a classmate rips off their mask and starts breathing on everyone. Stay calm, kids, and let your teacher handle the situation.

Z is for Zoom. Most folks are tired of virtual meetings, but Zoom is still the go-to medium for parents to connect with their teacher. Just don’t show up in your pajamas.

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