Edmonds, Mukilteo are reopening for some classes next month

As those districts prepare for second-graders, Snohomish joins the study of COVID transmission on campus.

EDMONDS — Elementary students will be returning to classrooms in Edmonds and Mukilteo next month as the slow march to reopening public schools across Snohomish County continues.

Second-graders in Edmonds School District will resume limited in-person instruction March 22 with first-graders arriving a week later under an agreement negotiated by the district’s administration and teacher’s union.

Kindergarten and pre-school students are to be welcomed back April 12 under the deal that the Edmonds School Board is set to approve in its 6:30 p.m. meeting Tuesday.

“Our agreement is innovative because we are offering support for the students who need it most, while also providing in-person opportunities for students at all levels, not just elementary students,” said Andi Nofziger-Meadows, president of the Edmonds Education Association. “Our agreement also provides options for staff who are unable to work in-person because of medical conditions or having high-risk household members.”

Teachers and district leaders had been bargaining for months before finally reaching a tentative agreement a week ago.

Superintendent Gustavo Balderas, who posted details on reopening on the district website Friday, issued a statement Monday thanking teachers and “our incredibly resilient students. Remote learning is not easy, but each day they impress us with their flexibility, compassion and innovation.”

In Mukilteo, preschool students arrived Monday. Second-graders are to return March 8 in a hybrid learning model. Tentative plans are for first-grade students to resume in-person instruction March 22 and kindergartners March 29, under a memorandum of understanding between the district and its teachers.

In surveys, about a third of K-2 students want to stay in fully remote learning and roughly 40% percent are ready to come back on campus, according to the district. The remainder say either way is fine but they want to keep their same teacher which the district cannot guarantee for all students.

“Staff have shown tremendous determination and innovation to meet students’ needs, and students have shown flexibility and determination in the face of a very challenging year,” said Superintendent Alison Brynelson. “I am elated that we are making progress and am excited to have students back in our schools soon.”

Meanwhile, in Snohomish, the school district is partnering with the University of Washington to better understand COVID transmission in classrooms.

On Monday, enrollment began for a volunteer study involving students in kindergarten through second grade, and staff working in-person with special education students, as well as kindergartners through sixth-graders.

Each week, participants will be tested, in addition to regular symptom monitoring.

Students will be given a test kit to take home for their parents to administer. Staff can collect their samples at school or at home.

The research aims to provide insight on asymptomatic spread of the virus, as well as transmission in schools. Meanwhile, the rapid testing helps the Snohomish Health District to contact trace within the district’s schools.

“This project gives our students, staff and their families peace of mind, provides a quick and easy way for them to get results and continue with their learning in our classrooms and schools,” Superintendent Kent Kultgen said in a news release.

And it will be a valuable addition to the ongoing debate about the safety of reopening schools.

“I am confident that with the design of this study and the participants, we will learn a great deal about the transmission of the virus,” UW immunologist Dr. Helen Chu said in the news release. “This information will be invaluable to policy-makers and administrators of health and education systems on the state and local levels, as they make decisions on when and how students may return to in-classroom instruction.”

For months, state leaders and public health experts have said districts can safely resume some in-person learning as long as they follow safety protocols such as wearing masks and dividing students into cohort groups — and if community transmission is at stable levels.

In recent weeks, as coronavirus infections fall and vaccinations climb, Gov. Jay Inslee and Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal have stepped up their calls for schools to reopen.

Edmonds and Mukilteo are the next to last districts in Snohomish County to do so. Only one public school district, Northshore, has yet to announce a timeline for reopening classrooms.

In Edmonds, parents of students in pre-school through second grade have until 11 p.m. Tuesday to tell the district if they want their child to remain in fully remote learning or transition to the hybrid schedule that involves two days on campus and three at home.

Teachers and staff must also let the district know if they want to return, or not.

Once that information is gathered, principals can develop class assignments and schedules. Some students will be getting new teachers. Staff and students can expect to learn of their class assignments starting March 8.

Herald writer Joseph Thompson contributed to this report.

Jerry Cornfield: jcornfield@heraldnet.com | @dospueblos

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