Thursday, December 2, 2021
Dec. 2, 2021

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Clark County districts follow own courses to finish out school year

By , Columbian staff writer

There’s been no one-size-fits-all educational model this school year, and the same goes for expanding in-person instruction for Clark County’s largest school districts.

On Wednesday, Evergreen Public Schools announced it will stick to its current hybrid learning model and not expand to four-day-a-week, in-person learning, while neighboring Vancouver Public Schools will transition select grades for increased classroom instruction.

Last month, Gov. Jay Inslee gave Washington K-12 schools the option to reduce the physical distance between students in classrooms to 3 feet, down from the previous 6 feet of spacing as a COVID-19 safety measure.

Evergreen superintendent Mike Merlino said the recent state guidance for schools poses several challenges for the district moving to four days of in-person instruction. Instead, he said the district will continue twice-a-week hybrid instruction and fully remote learning for those students who want it.

“These revised rules are challenging to implement in our 38 school buildings for the remainder of this school year without significant, and potentially disruptive, changes to school schedules and school operations,” Merlino said.

Back to the classroom, or not

Battle Ground: K-12 full in-person instruction begins April 26.

Camas: K-5 four-day-a-week, in-person instruction began March 22; grades 6-12 began April 19.

Evergreen: Remains in twice-a-week hybrid instruction through rest of school year.

Green Mountain: to be determined at Tuesday board meeting.

Hockinson: K-5 full in-person instruction starts April 26; grades 6-12 start May 3.

La Center: K-12 full in-person instruction starts April 26.

Ridgefield: K-6 full in-person instruction began April 19; grades 7-12 begin April 27.

Vancouver: K-3 four-day-a-week, in-person instruction begins May 3; grades 4-5-6, 9 begin May 10.

Washougal: K-5 four-day-a-week, in-person instruction began April 12; grades 6-12 began April 19.

Woodland: K-4 full in-person instruction began March 9; grades 5-8 begin full in-person instruction April 27; grades 9-12 begin four-day-a-week, in-person instruction April 27.

District spokeswoman Gail Spolar said logistical hurdles can vary depending on school and grade level, particularly in secondary grades where more teachers balance in-person and remote students simultaneously. The district also took into consideration the time remaining in the school year and the impact of additional change not only for staff and students, but for families reshuffling once again.

“Those were the pieces we balanced,” Spolar said.

The district said more help will be available for students who need additional personal and academic support. That includes additional/full-time in-person instruction for students deemed at-risk by school leaders. Parents also may request their student be considered for additional/full-time in-person learning.

‘Spring hybrid’ at VPS

VPS’s “spring hybrid” plan includes expanding in-person instruction to four days a week for kindergartners through third-graders May 3, then to fourth-, fifth-, sixth- and ninth-graders May 10.

The district’s plans keep twice-a-week hybrid instruction for seventh- and eighth-graders at the middle school level, and for sophomores through seniors at the high school level.

Jim Gray, the district’s director of teaching and learning for high schools, said during Tuesday’s school board meeting that space considerations at the 36 schools do not allow the district to safely commit to bringing all students in for four days of in-person instruction.

“Our objective is to provide in-person services for the maximum number of students,” he said.

Gray said the district settled in on expanding in-person learning at the secondary level to transition grades — sixth- and ninth-graders — who are new to their buildings. District officials added that students across all grade levels who are identified by teachers and other building leaders as high-risk are eligible for four days of in-person instruction. That would include students needing extra social and emotional support, English language learners and students receiving other special services, such as Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs).

Battle Ground

Next week, Battle Ground Public Schools, the county’s third-largest district, welcomes all students into full-day, five-day-a-week, in-person instruction Monday — one of the few Clark County districts to do so. District spokeswoman Rita Sanders said last week that roughly 84 percent of students districtwide will attend in-person classes; the remaining 16 percent have chosen to stick with full-time remote instruction.

While returning to full-time in-person instruction is a big change — another one in a school year full of them — educators are ready, said Fiona Engebretson, the president of the Battle Ground Education Association.

“Our educators have been, and I think they are, ready, and I think, like the students, they’re ready to see this year out,” Engebretson said. “Given everything we’ve been managing through the pandemic, one thing educators have learned is to be flexible. We know this isn’t going back to normal, but we know the chance to do more in-person learning was going to come along.”