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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

The ABCs of back to school, from asking questions to ZPass

A hallway at Denny Yasuhara Middle School is photographed on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022, in Spokane, Wash. Classes begin in Spokane Public Schools on Tuesday.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
By Jim Allen For The Spokesman-Review

Back to school means more than books – for students, families, teachers and almost everyone in Eastern Washington and North Idaho.

It’s about new programs, new buildings, new faces and new issues. Throughout the Inland Northwest, students, parents and educators have much to look forward to this year.

Here’s an alphabetical guide to just a few of them:

A is for asking questions. Ask your child about her day at school. Try to ask questions that encourage more than “yes” or “no” answers. What did you learn? Who did you sit with at lunch? What books did the teacher read to you?

B is for boundaries, and they have changed considerably, especially in the northern part of Spokane Public Schools. With the addition of two new middle schools and the shift of sixth-graders to those schools, many old feeder patterns have changed.

C is for critical race theory, which seeks to examine American history through the lens of racism. School districts say it isn’t being taught; however, the theory has become a lightning rod for controversy at school board meetings in Eastern Washington and elsewhere, and the controversy shows no sign of abating.

D is for devices, specifically children’s cellphones and how they are used. The use of cellphones in online bullying and other offenses has even drawn the attention of law enforcement. Policies and discipline vary by district and even by school, so be sure your child understands what’s allowed – before, during and after school.

E is for ESSER, a federal aid program launched during the pandemic that gives significant funds to districts for mental health services, educational technology and activities to address the needs of various subgroups, including students with disabilities, English learners, homeless students and others. However, those funds must be spent by 2024, which could force some districts to pull back on some current supports by that time.

F is for Flett Middle School, one of two new buildings opening this fall in Spokane Public Schools. Named for Pauline Flett, who helped preserve the Salish language for future generations, the $67 million school will eventually serve about 750 students in northwest Spokane.

G is for guns and school security, specifically the controversy over whether schools should arm resource officers. The question is among the most divisive in the country and in Spokane, and is sure to continue to be debated, especially locally.

H is for help, and almost every school needs some from dedicated community volunteers. Contact the district in your area to see how you can help your neighborhood schools.

I is for Immersion at the Libby Center, where the comprehensive Spanish-language program is one of the most popular in Spokane Public Schools. This program accepts kindergarten students through a lottery. Interested in Spanish immersion for the 2023-24 school year? Be sure to enroll by Feb. 15.

J is for jobs, and there are plenty of them in almost every school district in Spokane County. In fact, hundreds of positions were still unfilled as schools began to open last week. In particular demand are bus drivers, nutrition service workers and substitute teachers, the last of which pays $150 per day.

K is for kindergarten, which can be the most exciting and frightening time for children and parents, especially as all-day kindergarten is now universal in Washington. However, this year, Spokane Public Schools is having half-day kindergarten for the first week of school, which begins Wednesday for first-year students.

L is for late-start Mondays, a new wrinkle in the Spokane Public Schools calendar. In order to give teachers a more consistent experience in lesson-planning and collaboration, the school day will begin an hour later each Monday. The district said it hopes the new schedule will provide a more steady approach than the intermittent early-release Friday model used before.

M is for mandates, and most of them are gone. However, the state of Washington still requires that all school employees be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus unless they obtain a medical or religious exemption.

N is for nutrition, which got a boost during the pandemic when federal funds paid for free meals for all students. That program is gone; however, Spokane Public Schools (and individual schools in several other districts) has been able to obtain free meals for all students after legislative action in Olympia.

O is for open houses, which are offered at every school but not always heavily attended. Attending your school’s open house will give you an insight into what’s happening in your child’s class, a chance to meet their teachers and look over your child’s work samples.

P is for the COVID-19 pandemic, which remains a threat though severe cases remain low relative to most of the COVID era. However, expect some students and teachers to continue wearing masks and taking other precautions, and because of that, classmates are urged to respect those choices.

Q is for quick access, and every parent or guardian needs it from time to time. Area school districts’ websites have fast answers to many important questions. Here are links to fast answers from districts around the region, including Spokane Public Schools, Central Valley, Mead, East Valley, West Valley and Cheney.

R is for reading, which is getting a new approach at Spokane elementary schools in an effort to boost comprehension.

S is for superintendents, several of whom are new this year. John Parker is the new leader at the area’s second-largest district, Central Valley; Ben Ferney, a former assistant principal at Cheney Middle School, is returning to Cheney Public Schools to be that district’s superintendent; and Lisa Arnold, the assistant superintendent of the Lakeland Joint School District, was promoted to the top spot.

T is for test scores, which took a tumble in the first reports following the pandemic. Expect educators and parents to pay close attention to the next release of scores.

U is for under construction, especially on the South Hill, where Sacajawea Middle School is getting a new building and the new Carla Peperzak Middle School is going up on 63rd Avenue.

V is for vaping, which is soon to become much more difficult at Spokane Public Schools after the district decided to install vape sensors in the bathrooms of all secondary buildings.

W is for walking to school, something that more Spokane students will be doing this year after the district made some changes to its transportation model.

X is for crosswalks, and they’re hard to ignore. Dedicated volunteers (see above) are on duty at many intersections, helping keep children safe – and dissuading speeders. And don’t forget those speed limits. The city’s program catching speeders in school zones includes cameras at four elementary schools, with more to follow.

Y is for Yasuhara Middle School, another addition to Spokane Public Schools following the passage in 2018 of a $495 million capital bond. The school is located on Foothills Drive, just east of Hamilton Street.

Z is for ZPass, which is a small card that all students must carry to ride the bus. It automatically logs their entry or exit when they pass a scanner on the bus. The information is instantly and securely available to parents. Notifications can also be sent directly to your computer or to your cell phone via text message.