With Clark County’s COVID-19 activity rising for the sixth consecutive week and approaching levels not seen since mid-February, will schools scale back their newly implemented expanded in-person instruction?
In a year with ever-changing instructional models, district officials remain hopeful things will remain status quo with only seven weeks left in the 2020-21 academic calendar while continuing to monitor COVID-19 data.
This week, Clark County Public Health reported the county’s two-week rate of new cases rose to 198.1 per 100,000 people, a jump from 147.6 reported April 20. On March 16, the rate hit a 2021 low of 88.8. As part of Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement last month to allow schools the option to reduce physical distancing in classrooms, the state Department of Health recommends middle and high school students who aren’t in cohorts should still be placed 6 feet apart in regions where the number of people infected is above 200 per 100,000.
Clark County Public Health spokeswoman Marissa Armstrong stressed Thursday it’s a recommendation, not a requirement. She told The Columbian it supports the recommendations put forth by the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state DOH and added Public Health is not issuing additional guidance for area school districts.
“School administrators are ultimately responsible for making decisions about education settings and modes,” Armstrong said.
The county’s higher COVID-19 case counts come just as more districts are expanding in-person instruction to close out the school year. Just this week, Battle Ground Public Schools became the county’s largest district to do away with hybrid learning and expand in-person instruction to five days a week.
Next week, Vancouver Public Schools is moving to four-day-a-week in-person instruction starting in grades K-3. With the exception of the county’s largest district — Evergreen Public Schools — all other districts in Clark County already have or plan to expand in-person instruction to at least four days a week.
On Monday, Battle Ground superintendent Mark Ross told school board members while there’s a growing concern about higher community case counts, he reassured directors the district is doing everything it can to ensure safety and well-being of students and staff.
He recommended not pulling back from its full-time daily instruction should COVID-19 cases continue to climb with respect to continuing data monitoring.
“I think changing things again in this (final) seven weeks would not be beneficial to our students,” Ross said.
And that includes factoring in their own school district school transmission data for any decision making. As of last week, Battle Ground has 31 confirmed COVID-19 cases in staff since September, and 18 known cases among students.
“Looking at our data,” Ross said, “we just aren’t seeing a lot of transmission — barely any of our schools and barely any cases compared to the amount of students we have and the amount of students we have in building.”
That’s also common elsewhere. Last week, Vancouver reported eight students testing positive for COVID-19 at eight separate schools — the highest number of student cases in one week all school year. But since September, only six reported cases have been transmitted through schools.
Camas superintendent Jeff Snell told The Columbian there’s been zero COVID-19 transmission in schools since his district first expanded in-person instruction to four days a week March 22. As with every change in instructional models, Snell said his district continues to be thoughtful of the indicators and getting a good assessment of what’s going on in the community when weighing decisions.
Now is no different, either.
“If you have a lot of students in schools and the cases are happening in the community, you’re going to see cases in schools,” Snell said, “but are you going to see transmission in schools? That’s something the board is paying attention to really well.”