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Kelso releases draft school reopening plan, Kalama to recommend remote start

Kelso releases draft school reopening plan, Kalama to recommend remote start

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Kelso students may start the academic year in school one or two days a week under a hybrid schedule that staff began circulating to parents Friday, and Kalama students likely will start the year completely online.

“Although we are still working on our return to school plan ... we are getting closer to a version we believe is the best possible given the conditions of our county and working within state guidelines,” Superintendent Mary Beth Tack said in a letter to parents.

Students would be grouped by last name and have an assigned day to come into school, according to the plan.

Grades K-2 would be in school buildings two days a week, in classes of fewer than 10 students. Students in grades 3-12 would attend classes in person one day a week, in groups of less than eight. On off days, they would do online learning, and Wednesday would be online for all grades. That would allow staff to give specific student support, spokeswoman Michele Nerland said.

Teachers would identify students who need extra support either in person or through Zoom, Nerland said. The specifics are still in development.

And the Wednesday break would be an extra chance for cleaning and disinfecting school buildings, she said. Schools will be cleaned daily under extensive safety guidelines, she added.

According to the draft plan, the district hopes to increase class sizes for grades 3-12 as COVID infections decrease and social distancing requirements are lifted.

While in school, all students and staff will wear masks or face shields, keep physical distancing, clean their hands often and have daily health checks, according to the draft plan said.

The plan aligns with the district’s most recent survey, which showed that a majority of students, parents and staff wanted at least some in-person instruction days.

According to the district, 73% of parents and 79% of students want school to start either fully in-person or in a hybrid model with some in-person days.

And 62% of certificated staff — teachers and other licensed educators — and 73% of classified staff wanted the same thing, the survey said.

Nearly 1,300 people answered the survey, which closed Thursday.

Tack said the district was working closely with teacher union representatives to create the final plan, which will be presented to the Kelso School Board for approval on Aug. 10.

While the school community wanted to move away from remote learning, Nerland said this year’s online learning experience will be “greatly improved” from the spring. And if schools are closed again, all students will go to full remote learning, according to the draft plan.

While many of the details are still being worked out, Nerland said teachers will get plenty of training on how to teach virtually, “because it’s a whole different way of teaching.”

“The teaching and learning department has been incredibly busy” preparing professional development training and online curriculum, “trying to figure out ways to make the remote and virtual part as good of an experience as it can be,” Nerland said.

Kelso Virtual Academy is also an option for students, the draft plan said. However, if students enroll in KVA they will have to commit to at least one trimester or semester.

Kalama Superintendent Eric Nerison told parents in a Wednesday letter he anticipates making a recommendation to the Kalama School Board on Aug. 10 to begin the first month or so of school online. However, there will be “targeted in-person opportunities,” he said.

“I look forward to inviting our young learners back to campus for traditional, in-person learning as soon as we can do so safely for both students and staff, and I appreciate your patience and understanding as we continue to navigate this challenging reopening process,” he wrote.

He said he’s basing the choice on the current COIVD-19 infection rates in Cowlitz County, and said a majority of parents support the “soft start” approach, according to a recent survey.

Younger students, in grades K-5, will come back first as conditions improve, he said. Older students will be phased back in with a hybrid learning model. But families that prefer an online-only model will have the option to enroll in a district-sponsored home school program, he added.

Nerison said one source of hope is the county’s “modest declines in new cases” over the last week or so. However, it also announced five deaths from COVID-19.

“This is an important indicator to keep an eye on because the state is planning to issue guidance for schools that includes a minimum new case threshold for a return to face-to-face instruction,” he said. “While that threshold has not been officially announced, we expect that our county will, at least initially, be above” the allowed number of new cases.

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