In a school year filled with twists and turns, will Clark County school districts adjust to one more?
Gov. Jay Inslee announced late last week that school districts statewide can choose to reduce the distance between K-12 students in classrooms from 6 feet to 3 feet, effective immediately. The move allows for more students to be in buildings for in-person instruction, and echoes the recent revised guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this month.
The change to social-distancing standards in classrooms remains up to individual districts through the rest of the school year. By summer and fall, Inslee said he expects “normal operations” and for all districts to do away with the 6-foot spacing, so long as COVID-19 activity continues to decline.
Local district leaders continue to discuss possibilities of pushing forward with the latest change in a school year filled with plenty of them as spring break approaches for many next week.
But educators also stress it will take time, since other factors are at play besides 3-foot spacing between students in classrooms. Six-foot spacing still must be maintained between students and staff, and students in common places, such as buses and hallways, and at times when masks can’t be worn, such as meals.
There is no quick solution, especially for a large district like Evergreen Public Schools, the county’s largest district with 38 school buildings.
“It’s a puzzle,” spokeswoman Gail Spolar said, “and we have to put all the puzzles pieces together.”
Educational Service District 112 officials said Tuesday most of the 30 school districts it oversees across Southwest Washington already have had initial discussions about the new state guidance and what it means for their districts, said ESD 112 spokeswoman Monique Dugaw.
Just how quickly districts can move forward is still to be determined. For starters, classroom setups would need to be reconfigured, and meal logistics create another layer of logistical hurdles.
Battle Ground Public Schools announced to staff and families Tuesday it plans to transition into the new social distancing structure and five-day-a-week in-person instruction starting April 26. The move will be for all grade levels, but students and families still have the option to stay in full remote learning.
“It takes time to work through the complexities and prepare everything,” said district spokeswoman Rita Sanders.
Dugaw at ESD 112 added that some districts must meet with union leaders to amend and adopt new labor agreements prior to incorporating the guidance.
Shortly after Inslee’s announcement last week, the Washington Association of School Administrators called it “welcome news” but took a guarded approach.
“Some districts will need more time to adjust and plan under this new guidance,” Executive Director Joel Aune said in a news release, “though this development puts everyone on a pathway to more fully reopen schools for in-person learning by the fall.”
Some of Clark County’s smaller districts are ahead of that pace. Camas, Green Mountain, Hockinson and Washougal have in-person instruction four days per week for elementary students, according to ESD 112. Woodland Public Schools is the region’s only public school district with all its elementary students in full-time in-person instruction daily.
Two weeks ago, Battle Ground, Hockinson and Vancouver school districts were the final ones to welcome all high school grades back to in-person instruction, completing the K-12 hybrid timeline in Clark County that first began with kindergartners in some districts doing hybrid instruction as early as September.