Lakewood School District has brought all of their elementary students back to in-person hybrid learning beginning of Feb. 15.
Younger students returned earlier on Jan. 25 while grades three to five returned in February.
The planned date for middle school students to return is March 8 while high school students are scheduled to return March 29.
District officials believe the safety measures approved by the Snohomish Health District and Washington State Department of Health can prevent the spread of COVID-19, even with schools partially open.
“What we’ve seen over the past few months, especially in the fall and into the winter is that with all the right measures we can bring kids back to in-person learning,” said Lakewood School District Superintendent Scott Peacock. “We have put a tremendous amount of effort into making sure we have all of our protocols, our PPE, our classrooms arranged for corona capacity."
As part of safety measures all classrooms are measured for a new capacity to accommodate six feet of distance between students.
The district has put in protocols throughout the district to minimize contact between students as well, and is also one of 50 in the state that has been accepted into a pilot testing program.
“We are now able to get rapid diagnostic testing for kids and staff that are symptomatic,” said Peacock. “We can get the results back in 48 to 72 hours and can initiate contact tracing right away or we can bring the student back to class right away if they don’t have the virus."
The tests are free for students and staff.
“That just speeds things up so families don’t have to take their kids to the doctor and get the test there,” said Peacock.
As part of the program the district can also do weekly screenings of staff to catch asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19.
“That is voluntary. We can’t require staff to get the testing done,” said Peacock.
Asymptomatic screening of students would likely not be an effective strategy due to the number of parents who would opt out, said Peacock.
The district had paid for screening for staff earlier this year, as well, when not part of the program.
“We’re trying to give people assurance that we’re trying to stay ahead of this,” said Peacock.
Peacock acknowledged that teachers had concerns about safety and returning to class.
“But they also want to see their kids in person. They love their kids and this is what they do, so there is a lot of excitement about seeing their kids again, but there is also a nervousness about the virus,” he said.
The Stillaguamish Tribe has offered some of their vaccine supply for any Lakewood teachers who want to be vaccinated and they have begun that process.
Many families also had skepticism about the safety the district could provide while learning in-person.
“Our approach in this district has been to be deliberate and thoughtful about how we bring students back so we can give those assurances to families that do have concerns,” said Peacock. “We’ve really tried hard to find a sweet spot, where we can give assurances [of safety] and be confident in those, without over-promising."
So far, those safety measures have been effective at the district. Small groups of students have returned since October.
“We haven’t had any transmission on site. We’ve had kids get the virus, of course, as they have parents and their parents are going to get it, but we haven’t had any kids get it on-site yet,” said Peacock.
Lakewood families still have an online option as well.
“We’ve made that available to families since September who anticipated they would not be sending their kids back to in-person,” said Peacock.
About 300 students have been enrolled in the program and that number isn’t changing much with schools reopening, said Peacock.
Most grades are in a hybrid model currently so they are only back in-person for two days a week. Kindergarten through second grade have come back for four days a week however.
“We hired four new teachers to keep the class sizes low enough to socially distance,” said Peacock.
During days students are not attending in-person classes they are still going to be connecting with teachers.
“They are going to be checking in with their teachers and classmates remotely so they can get started, check in with them, make sure they know what they need to do,” said Peacock.
Peacock said he doesn’t know how long the district will be in the hybrid model.
“We all hope we’re going to be back to in-person learning without restrictions as soon as possible. My view is that it’s unlikely before the end of this year,” he said.
He hopes the district will be closer to a normal structure this fall.
As part of upcoming recovery efforts, Peacock said the district will also have to figure out how to return students back up to the normal standards.
“How do we, over time, close those gaps and get them to a place where developmentally they’re demonstrating competencies they would normally be expected to demonstrate,” he said.
That work will probably look different for each student, he said.
“We have a lot of work to do to provide services to our students and close those gaps that have opened up because of remote learning,” he said.