Vancouver Public Schools will begin a temporary schedule of mixed remote and in-person learning for middle and high school students starting Tuesday due to a shortage of bus drivers, the district announced Monday.
McLoughlin Middle School and Fort Vancouver High School will go remote starting Tuesday and ending on Friday.
Columbia River High School, Skyview High School, Alki Middle School, Jason Lee Middle School and Jefferson Middle School will then shift to remote learning starting Jan. 18 through Jan. 21. Jan. 17 is the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday.
The last shift of remote learning will feature Hudson’s Bay High School, Discovery Middle School, Gaiser Middle School, Vancouver School of Arts and Academics, Vancouver iTech Preparatory and the Vancouver Flex Academy from Jan. 24 to Jan. 27. Jan. 28 is a semester break and scheduled nonattendance day for students.
“We do not have enough bus drivers to transport all of our students in our current format, so it is necessary to implement a temporary schedule in which some of our schools will switch to four days of remote learning over the next three weeks,” the district said in a press release.
The move comes as the district faces what it described as a critical challenge with an influx of staff absences due to illness or quarantine measures. The district is offering a $500 hiring bonus for substitute bus drivers who meet the district’s requirements through June 15.
Vancouver Public Schools hopes that full-time in-person learning can return in February.
On remote learning days, school cafeterias, libraries and Family-Community Resource Centers will be open for students who need to access the internet or need a safe place to go during remote learning. Grab-and-go meals will be available at each location on remote days from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Middle school extracurricular activities and athletics will be paused, the district’s announcement said. For high school extracurricular activities, check with your school.
“We are monitoring staff and student absences, unfilled staff positions and other considerations such as local and state case rates as well as changing guidelines,” the announcement said. “We appreciate your patience as we navigate these challenges in our community.”
Testing supply shortage
The closures come as districts across Clark County are reporting shortages in testing supplies and necessary staffers amid the surge of the omicron variant.
Vancouver Public Schools was forced to close down its COVID-19 testing center at the Jim Parsley Center Complex at 4040 Plomondon St. in Vancouver on Monday due to a lack of testing supplies.
The district receives its supplies as part of the Learn to Return program, a state-led initiative that directs school districts to local providers. Vancouver Public Schools spokesperson Pat Nuzzo said the district’s shipment of another 2,000 test kits has been delayed, and they are unsure when they will be received in order for the testing center to open back up.
As of Monday, there is no confirmed time frame for when the site may reopen.
Vancouver is not alone in its search for testing supplies.
Evergreen Public Schools spokesperson Gail Spolar said the east Vancouver district had expected another shipment of tests by Friday but has yet to receive them.
“We still are able to test every student or staff member that has needed a test today with our current inventory, but if the delayed order doesn’t reach us shortly, we could have issues,” Spolar said.
“To further put it in context, prior to winter break, 2,000 test kits would be sufficient inventory for two to three weeks. Now, 2,000 kits are lasting the district less than a week.”
Friday, Battle Ground Public Schools Superintendent Denny Waters sent out a letter to parents pleading with them to keep their students at home if they were experiencing symptoms.
“Student absences have increased (a combination of sickness or being identified as a close contact), and staff absences have increased to the point where we cannot cover all classrooms, and we have been forced to suspend certain programs,” Waters said.
Battle Ground spokesperson Rita Sanders reported that the district had 208 positive virus cases among students and staff in the week between Jan. 3 and Jan. 7. Just before students left for winter break, Battle Ground had been reporting some of the highest case numbers in Clark County.
“I am asking for your help. Please do not send your children to school if they are experiencing symptoms,” Waters said. “Please encourage your kids to follow the mitigation strategies that are in place, including masking and physical distancing.”
Waters’ letter also concluded with a plea for local parents to help fill gaps staffing, as the district struggles with finding substitute teachers.
The warnings and closures in Vancouver come just days after state superintendent Chris Reykdal said he anticipated that temporary closures were forthcoming.
As stated in the Friday address, however, there will be no statewide closures or mandates for a return to remote learning, he said.