Following the advice of county health officials, the Edmonds School District announced Wednesday it will forgo reopening schools in the fall for the 2020-21 school year. Instead, the district will be moving forward with its remote-learning model, Continuous Learning 2.0.
In a letter addressed to families, Superintendent Gustavo Balderas said the district will be moving forward with distance learning after the Snohomish Health District advised Snohomish County public school superintendents and private school administrators not to reopen schools this fall. Snohomish County Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters said Wednesday morning that the “continued upward trajectory” of COVID-19 cases in the county means that reopening schools would pose a substantial risk to the school and the surrounding community.
The district’s Continuous Learning 2.0 plan builds on the remote learning model provided earlier this year by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) when schools closed. District leaders have been working to improve the model to prepare for possible future school closures this fall.
The earliest students could return to in-person learning would be mid November, Balderas said.
“We realize our decision not to have in-person learning opportunities at this time extends the hardship, uncertainty and equity gaps already imposed on many of our families,” he said. “Please know we are working to address learning needs, child care and other impacts of this difficult choice.”
The full text of the letter can be read below:
Dear Edmonds School District families,
After weeks of reviewing health and safety data surrounding COVID-19, as well as feedback from families and staff, the district’s executive leadership team, School Board, and I believe the best course of action for Reopening Edmonds Schools 2020 is to reopen with all students in the fully remote learning model of Continuous Learning 2.0.
Before in-person learning can take place, we must ensure the safety of our students and staff. With the increasing health risks surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, we just do not see a way we can safely reopen our school buildings at this time.
The decision for our district was not made lightly and was based on a number of factors, including:
- Snohomish County Health District announced today it recommends schools not reopen in-person at the start of the school year.
- Increasing number of COVID-19 cases in Snohomish County, with the latest numbers indicating almost 100 cases per 100,000 people living in our county. This rate is nearly identical to the rate of cases we saw when schools first closed in March.
- This is the sixth consecutive increase in the case rate, which calculates a two-week period.
- The current rate of infection is 4.5 times what it was in late May and early June.
- 20 percent of our staff identify as being in the high risk category for contracting the virus.
- New research estimates there is a 37 percent chance that at least one person in a gathering of 50 people in Snohomish County is positive with COVID-19.
We realize our decision not to have in-person learning opportunities at this time extends the hardship, uncertainty and equity gaps already imposed on many of our families. Please know we are working to address learning needs, childcare and other impacts of this difficult choice.
Timeline for when we could return to in-person learning
When it is safe for our students and staff, we look forward to offering in-person learning. A fully remote learning option would still be available for families.
We want to be as transparent with our families as possible when it comes to our strategic planning for in-person learning. At this time, we plan to do any switch to in-person learning at the start of each new quarter or semester. We would only allow for in-person learning if we receive guidance from our local and state health departments that it is safe.
Our current timeline is based on the logistics of returning to in-person learning for our teachers, students and families, and other critical operational and staffing processes needed for us to be able to safely reopen our buildings. We are committed to providing ongoing updates as we approach each possible transition date for in-person learning to allow for enough notice for families to plan for any changes.
Below we are providing the approximate dates for a possible return to in-person learning. Please keep in mind, however, that the health authorities and COVID-19 will ultimately make these decisions and we will adjust as needed.
- Approximate dates to transition to in-person learning, if it is safe to do so:
- Nov. 12, 2020
- Feb. 3, 2021
- April 14, 2021
- Other key dates for students and families:
- Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020 – First day of school
- Thursday, June 24, 2021 – Last day of school
Continuous Learning 2.0 will be better than the spring
We know Continuous Learning in the spring was not perfect, and in fact, left many families frustrated. There was no playbook for what schools had to do when they were told to close their doors and immediately switch to a remote learning model. Never in my life would I have imagined having to close school buildings in such a drastic manner. However, we’ve learned and we’ve listened and we are working diligently to make the remote learning experience better.
We are committed to providing a high quality remote learning experience for our students, teachers and families in the following ways:
- Streamline digital resources: We plan to offer one digital platform for our 3rd through 12th grade students. Our pre-k through 2nd grade students will have a separate digital platform that we believe is more suitable for younger students. We will share more specifics with families, including how to use these platforms, in the coming weeks.
- Provide clear and consistent expectations: We want our students, families and staff to have a clear understanding of expectations for learning. Students in our advisory group for the planning of Reopening Edmonds Schools 2020 told us they want more day-to-day structure. With that in mind, we will continue to be flexible for our families and meet them where they are when it comes to remote learning.
- Focus on providing a sense of belonging in a virtual environment: We want to have more opportunities for students to connect with their classmates and their teachers, which could include more virtual small group activities. We also will improve communication between families and teachers.
Support for students and families
We recognize that distance learning cannot fully meet the needs of all our students. We have a group doing intentional work right now on the best ways the district can provide additional support when it comes to students receiving Special Education Services, English Learners, students experiencing homelessness and other needs.
We hosted two virtual community forums in the past week and are grateful for families, students, staff and community members who joined us and shared their questions and concerns. Our next scheduled community forum will focus on students and include our student advisors on the panel. It takes place 6-7 p.m. Wednesday, July 29, 2020. You can find all the details for the community forum on our website.
Clear communication is our top priority and we will continue to hold community forums that will be based on different topics ranging from Special Education, middle school, high school, elementary school, and one specifically for our incoming kindergarten families. We will share those dates and times with you in the coming weeks.
We know there are still many more questions, and we may not have all the answers at this moment, however, please know we are working extremely hard and with a deep sense of responsibility to our students. We will continue to add more frequently asked questions with answers to our Reopening Edmonds Schools 2020 FAQ website.
I want to say a sincere thank you to all of our families. This is an extremely difficult time and I want to assure all our families that we are doing everything we can to support the health of our community and provide our students with the education they deserve.
I look forward to a time when we can meet in person and I can go to schools and get to know our incredible students. That day will come.
Dr. Gustavo Balderas