Edmonds School District proposes four-stage plan to bring students back into school buildings

The Edmonds School District last week unveiled its proposal to reopen schools for in-person learning.

The Edmonds School District last week unveiled its proposed plans for reintegrating students into the classroom when officials give their OK for in-person learning.

At the Edmonds School Board’s Sept. 22 business meeting, staff detailed a draft four-stage model to phase students back into classrooms. According to the draft, the distinct proposed prioritizing students in special education programs, who would benefit the most from in-person learning, followed by younger students and eventually students at all other grade levels. Plans to reopen are contingent on the advice from health professionals and other official guidance, said Assistant Superintendent Dana Geaslen.

“The way our stages go, we will progress, we hope, and if we have to go back stages, we will do that,” she said. “It’s just about being really thoughtful in how we go about this and how we re-enter our buildings.”

Under Stage 1, students who spend 0-30% of their time receiving general education — including students in intensive support classes, developmental kindergarten classes, the deaf and hard of hearing and visually impaired programs — would be brought back to in-person learning first. Ten buildings would be reopened with around nine to 10 students at each location.

Geaslen said the district is not in a hurry to reopen schools, and staff would be working closely with the school buildings’ administrators and staff to provide a safe environment during Stage 1 before bringing back more students during the next stage.

“We don’t want to rush into this,” she said. “We want to do it right because we also know if we do Stage 1 well, those 10 buildings…they can then be a resource for that next stage, which has a significantly bigger number of students coming into school.”

Geaslen said each classroom would have no more than seven students at a time. She added that families who do not want their students returning to classroom learning would be allowed to opt out and continue with remote learning.

Stage 2 proposes bringing K-2 and some pre-K students back to in-person learning under the district’s hybrid learning model, which would split students into two groups and divide their time between the classroom and remote learning. The plan also proposes offering some on-site services for students experiencing homelessness and English learning students. She said the sites would be access points that offer Wi-Fi and meals for homeless students during remote learning.

Stage 3 would have K-2 students switching to in-person learning four days a week and bringing third- through 12th-grade students back to school buildings using the hybrid learning model. This stage would also see more special education and preschool students phase into in-person learning. 

In Stage 4, all K-12 students who have not opted out of in-person learning will have returned, including the remaining special needs students.

Each school reopening will work alongside student services staff to create their own unique reopening plan. Geaslen said the plans detail how the schools would accommodate everything from building access to meal times to staggering bus drop offs.

During the question portion, Director Nancy Katims asked how many bus drivers would be brought back to shuttle students to and from the schools. In response, Geaslen said it would depend on the number of families who opt for in-person learning under Stage 1 and how many families want their students transported by bus. With Stage 2 bringing in more students, she said additional bus drivers would be needed.

Katims also asked whether students who continue learning remotely would be able to keep the teacher they started the school year with as schools reopen. Geaslen said that, too, relied on the number of students who choose to keep learning remotely and that the district would continue to reach out to families during each new stage to ask about their plans for their students.

Additionally, Geaslen said the district has not decided whether families who choose remote or in-person learning will have the option to change their minds mid-year. According to Geaslen, other school districts have required families who select remote learning to stick with their option for the remainder of the year.

“We’ll have to make that delineation also and then communicate that clearly to our families when we ask them ‘which are you choosing?’ and then what does that long-term decision mean,” she said.

This year, student enrollment in the region took a “heavy hit,” dropping by 5-25%, said Superintendent Gustavo Balderas. As of now, Balderas said 650 students remain unenrolled, half of which are at the kindergarten and first-grade level. Regarding the funding the district receives for enrolled students, Director Ann McMurray asked how much the district was losing for the unenrolled students.

Finance Director Lydia Sellie said each unenrolled student represents just under $10,000, translating to a $6.5 million loss for the district.

McMurray also asked if the district would be able to recoup the financial losses if enrollment increased as the district moved through its reopening stages.

In response, Sellie said the district would be able to receive reimbursement. She explained that the state reimburses the district 10 months out of the year and has allowed school districts until the end of September to submit their enrollment. However, Sellie added that if enrollment increases in the following months, the district would be able to claim those newly-enrolled students for reimbursement.

Before entering Stage 1, Superintendent Balderas said district staff must first negotiate with bargaining groups, adding that the district will be monitoring the latest guidance from public health officials.

“Our goal is to move on pretty quickly, but it’s very dependent on us working with our (bargaining) associations,” he said.

Also during the meeting, the board received several public comments asking that office workers and paraeducators be able to choose to work remotely. In her submitted public comment, Scriber Lake High School officer worker Christine Kratz asked why office personnel and paraeducators who are high-risk for COVID-19 were given the ultimatum to return to working in school buildings or take unpaid leave.

“I respectfully ask each board member please also answer why certificated staff were given an option to work remotely, but classified staff are not, particularly those of us who have done so since the March closure and would continue to do so with the approval of our immediate supervisors,” Kratz said in her comment.

On Sept. 24, the district’s human resources department sent an email to paraeducators notifying them that their supervisors would have the authority to either allow them to work remotely or require them to be onsite.

Also during public comments, educators from Edmonds’ Chase Lake Elementary School asked that the board allow the school to continue to use Lexia Core5 Reading, a supplemental learning program that helps students with reading.

Chase Lake Elementary is classified as a high-poverty school that receives additional funding, which previously allowed the school to purchase Lexia. However, the school was not authorized to do so this year meaning that many English language learners and other students struggling to learn to read lost a vital resource, according to Chase Lake teacher Kelsey Reyes.

“Because our school was not allowed to purchase Lexia with our high-poverty funding, my students will no longer have access to a reading program that could directly address their IEP goals while they are outside of my classroom,” she said.

In other business, the board unanimously voted to approve a one-year contract with Graduation Alliance. The organization works to re-engage students who have dropped out of school and offers them a flexible and supportive online learning program to help them complete and graduate high school.

Under the program, Balderas said the district would work to ensure elementary school students remain engaged so they can be successful later in their education and reduce the likelihood they will drop out of high school. Another option, he said, would be revisiting the district’s former practice of offering night classes.

“The overall goal is to develop a solid plan of action and to address all kids that aren’t’ engaged,” he said.

–By Cody Sexton

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