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Spokane schools urged to cancel or delay spirit games as COVID-19 rates soar, while one school goes temporarily remote

UPDATED: Wed., Jan. 12, 2022

University Students wave Star Wars Storm Trooper masks during Stinky Sneaker spirit competition at this 2016 game.  (COLIN MULVANY)
University Students wave Star Wars Storm Trooper masks during Stinky Sneaker spirit competition at this 2016 game. (COLIN MULVANY)

Rising COVID-19 cases are forcing schools to reconsider three popular high school spirit games and one campus to temporarily go remote.

On Tuesday, the Spokane Regional Health District urged schools to cancel or postpone large events until case rates stabilize. Those include upcoming high school spirit games: the “Rubber Chicken,” between Ferris and Lewis and Clark; the “Groovy Shoes” between Shadle Park and North Central; and the “Stinky Sneaker” between Central Valley and University.

On its website, the SRHD cited “extremely high COVID-19 transmission rates” as a deterrent to hold those events next week as scheduled.

“Large events and gatherings provide an opportunity for multiple people to become infected,” the SRHD said. “In this environment, large school events could result in a surge of cases concentrated in K-12 schools within a single community or district resulting in:

  • A huge strain on school testing resources, contact tracing and school nurse activities
  • Increased student absences
  • Staffing shortages
  • School closures”

Meanwhile, rising COVID metrics are forcing an immediate move to remote learning at Gonzaga Preparatory School, families were told Tuesday.

According to a letter sent to families, remote learning at the high school will begin on Wednesday. School officials said they plan to return to in-person learning on Jan. 24.

The change was forced by soaring rates of COVID and other illnesses, with 30% of students directly affected, the email said.

“We believe that this decision will give our students the best educational experience and provide them the opportunity to finish the semester strong,” the letter continued. “We do not take this decision lightly, and want to affirm our commitment to providing an exceptional college preparatory, holistic, Jesuit education.”

At the same time, two of Spokane County’s largest districts are seeing record-breaking numbers.

The COVID-19 dashboard posted Tuesday by the Central Valley School District showed 291 positive tests in the previous 14 days, including 48 at University High School.

Numbers were even higher at the Mead School District, which reported 468 students and staff out for COVID-related reasons in the previous 10 days. However, some of those cases are from winter break, according to the district website.

Mead also announced that it is halting athletic competition until it receives more testing supplies in support of its “Test to Stay” and athletic-testing programs.

Beginning Wednesday, athletic competitions and practices will be put on hold until supplies arrive. Symptomatic students are also being asked to stay home unless they can provide proof of a negative test from outside the school.

On Monday, the Mead school board discussed adding incentives for substitute teachers, including higher pay and a waiver of vaccination requirements.

Spokane Public Schools officials were unable Tuesday to provide absentee numbers not only from this week, but from last Thursday and Friday.

Superintendent Adam Swinyard said Tuesday that most schools have student and staff absentee rates of between 10% and 20%.

“We’re experiencing many of the same challenges of other districts,” Swinyard said. “It varies across the district, depending on the school.”

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