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News >  K-12 education

Most students in Spokane County are back in school, at least part time

UPDATED: Mon., Feb. 8, 2021

Horizon Middle School seventh-grader Grady Stinson works Friday in the wood shop which has been upgraded with new equipment and tables.  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)
Horizon Middle School seventh-grader Grady Stinson works Friday in the wood shop which has been upgraded with new equipment and tables. (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)

The emotions ran high last week at Horizon Middle School but in a good way.

As 7th- and 8th-graders returned to class, the school was made whole again for the first time in more than 10 months.

“It fills our hearts to have them back,” Principal Joshua Wolcott said Friday, as Central Valley School District brought back its secondary students for one day a week of in-person learning.

That may not sound like much, but for Wolcott and his staff, this really was the brightest light yet in what has been a long tunnel.

Every age is special, but there’s something about middle-schoolers that demands a personal touch.

“They’re social beings,” said Wolcott, who welcomed back sixth graders last month. “That’s why we have this middle school model, for that sense of belonging.”

Last week, schools in Spokane County made their biggest strides toward a return to in-person learning, as the West Valley School District also brought back its secondary students.

“Things went very well,” West Valley Superintendent Kyle Rydell said on Friday. “Our secondary team did an amazing job working out the different scenarios and preparing for what those would look like.”

Rydell, who toured all of the district’s secondary buildings, said mask compliance was perfect and that students were adjusting to the one-way traffic in the hallways.

Cheney plans to begin bringing back secondary students starting Monday, a day before the district and most of its neighbors hold levy elections.

“I suppose there will be a few sleepless nights,” Superintendent Robert Roettger said.

Meanwhile, Spokane Public Schools began phasing in fourth graders last week.

That means that of the roughly 85,000 public school students in Spokane County, almost 90% are now able to attend in-person at least one day a week, should they choose to do so.

The remainder – mostly secondary students in Spokane Public Schools – are tentatively scheduled to return on a hybrid schedule beginning March 1.

With almost 30,000 students, the county’s largest district has taken a measured approach – too slow for many, too fast for others, Superintendent Adam Swinyard noted during a recent school board meeting.

“We will continue to follow the recommendations of state and local health officials,” Swinyard said last week.

Swinyard said the feedback on fourth graders’ return has been “very positive. And we’re looking forward to bringing back out fifth and sixth graders.

That process will begin Feb. 17. At the same time, COVID-19 metrics are more encouraging, with positive tests down in almost every district.

Spokane had just six positive tests and 145 people quarantined last week, while Central Valley reported on Friday that it had 42 positives and 65 under quarantine during the previous 14 days.

“That’s some of the things we prepared for,” Wolcott said. “We followed all the protocols and the safety guidelines and our teachers have done a phenomenal job.”

During that same time period, Mead School District had 58 positives and 210 under quarantine; those numbers are far below what the district faced in December.

Countywide, only one positive in-school transmission was reported, in Central Valley.

Most other districts reported declining numbers; however Riverside’s COVID-19 dashboard, posted Friday, showed 18 positive tests and 115 quarantines in the previous 14 days.

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