Faced with critical staffing shortages throughout the district because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Spokane Public Schools announced Thursday that it will close schools on Tuesday and is likely to also cancel classes on Jan. 24.
“We’ve reached a level of staffing shortages that require us to take additional measures to allow staff levels to return to normal levels,” Superintendent Adam Swinyard said in an interview.
At the same time, Swinyard said the district is trying to heed the advice of public health officials, who he said “have reinforced that we should be doing everything possible to provide in-person learning.”
Swinyard also emphasized that students won’t be losing any learning time; rather, those days will be made up later.
The next two weekends will include the following calendar adjustments:
- There will be no school on Tuesday. Combined with Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, that means students and staff will have a four-day weekend. The day off will replace a snow make-up day previously scheduled for March 14.
Students likely will have a three-day weekend next week. The district expects to cancel classes on Jan. 24. That day is tentatively scheduled as a “No School Day Pending Conditions.” The district said it will make a final decision about canceling classes for that day by Thursday. If school is canceled, the district would change the school calendar to hold classes on March 4, which is scheduled as a professional development day for teachers, with students not in class .
Sixth-grader Brody Baker raises his hand during a math lesson Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022 in his classroom at Adams Elementary in Spokane, Washington. Spokane Schools administrators are struggling with planning problems, which include short staffing and many absent children because of the COVID-19 omicron variant surge. (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
A third straight long weekend will occur because Jan. 31, is semester break day.
In an email sent to staff and families Thursday, the district said it is “using every means available to maintain in-person learning and avoid abrupt, unplanned school closures,” including shifting “over 50 central office administrators and numerous members of our support staff.
“Despite our efforts, we are still facing a large number of shortages every day, creating a significant strain on individual classrooms, schools, and district operations.”
The district pointed out that some public health officials predict the omicron surge will peak next week, “meaning conditions will likely not improve and may worsen over the next several weeks.”
Swinyard said that shifting the calendar will improve the chances of more staff returning to work and allow better contract tracing, which recently has been hampered by the sheer number of cases.
The planned calendar shift also is intended to give families more time to prepare for days off and lessen the chance of an abrupt closure.
Above all, Swinyard said he wanted to avoid a return to remote learning.
“That would be a last resort,” said Swinyard, who cited factors such as nutrition and staff training on technology as reasons to avoid going remote.
Only last week, Swinyard kept schools open during inclement weather, partly because some students would go hungry otherwise.
The administration’s decision drew a mixed reaction from two students at Shadle Park High School.
“I was failing before we went back to in-person full time, so I think going back online would not be great for a lot of kids,” said Brennan Ellis, a Shadle sophomore.
Junior Esenya Avila, however, continued to worry about the impacts of the coronavirus.
“It’s unfortunate to think about the possibility that we might not come back to school, and the additional day off just increases that stress,” Avila said.
District classrooms have been profoundly affected by the pandemic.
According to statistics obtained Wednesday by The Spokesman-Review, 1 out of 8 staff has been absent in recent days.
The student absentee rate is much higher. On Monday, 18% were absent. That rose to 19% on Tuesday and 24% on Wednesday.
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