MONROE — With teachers opposed and parents concerned about student safety, leaders of the Monroe School District have hit the pause button on returning first-graders to classrooms for in-person learning.
The school board decided late Wednesday to cancel the return after two days of face-to-face instruction, during which many teachers and some students stayed home.
“We have heard the concerns of our staff and families and are pausing in response to these concerns,” the board said in a statement issued at 6 p.m.
The large number of no-shows influenced directors.
“After looking at our attendance data from Tuesday and Wednesday, both staff and students, we determined that there needed to be a change in direction,” board President Jim Langston said in an email.
Wednesday’s decision, like many in recent weeks, was made behind closed doors. There was no vote taken when the board “modified” the return date for in-person learning, Langston said.
The pause only applies to first-grade students and does not affect kindergartners or special-needs students, who already had been meeting in-person.
Members of the teachers union marked the turn of events with a car parade and rally Thursday evening.
“We found out last night that the safety concerns voiced by educators and parents prevailed,” said Robyn Hayashi, president of the 366-member Monroe Education Association.
All students began the school year in distance learning and the district planned to reopen in stages, in line with safety protocols issued by the state Department of Health and recommendations of the Snohomish Health District. Last month, preschool, kindergarten and small groups of students with the highest needs returned for in-person instruction.
Local and state public health officials have said it’s OK to bring elementary-aged students back with a hybrid schedule and the proper safety measures, even as COVID infections surge across Snohomish County.
But the district and teachers union have struggled to reach agreement on protocols.
There’s been disagreement over how to maintain 6 feet of physical distance between students and teachers in classrooms, common spaces and during recess. And there have been unresolved questions about isolation and the quarantine of students and staff if there were to be a COVID-19 exposure on a campus.
Originally, the district set Monday as the start date for providing first-grade students with two days of in-person instruction and three days of remote learning each week. Under the hybrid schedule, students in each class were to be split into two groups that would attend on different days.
After teachers voted last week to oppose the resumption of in-person learning, the school board, in a closed session, decided to delay the launch a day.
When it did begin Tuesday, students arrived at each of the district’s five elementary schools. Only some of their teachers showed up at four campuses, and none did at Maltby Elementary.
On Wednesday, no first-grade teachers or students showed up at Maltby, according to district spokeswoman Tamara Krache. There were classes on the other campuses.
Superintendent Justin Blasko warned educators ahead of time they could be fired if they didn’t show up.
The board did not direct Blasko to discipline teachers who did not return for in-person instruction, Langston said.
Union president Hayashi said they will “work vigorously to make sure the district does not retaliate against teachers who refused to be bullied by the superintendent.”
Meanwhile, the district and union are to meet for up to six hours on Friday.
“Our negotiators will work on details including PPE, safety protocols, metrics, cleaning and sanitation,” Hayashi said. “We must also address, if infections continue to explode, if and when the district needs to join others in pulling back from in-person classes that are already occurring.”
Langston, the board president, did not say how long the pause would last.
“I still believe that our students learn best, and belong in, our classrooms,” he said, “and the Monroe School District will continue conversations with the Monroe Education Association to work to find a solution to best serve the students of the Monroe School District.”