EVERETT — A private high school in Everett is slowly bringing some students back for in-person classes.
Administrators at Archbishop Murphy High School are breaking up each grade into four cohorts, which each spend one day on campus per week, Monday through Thursday.
On Sept. 28, about 20 freshman arrived for in-person instruction. The next day, another cohort got to experience classroom learning for the first time as high schoolers. Starting this week, groups of sophomores will spend a day in class for the first time since March.
“It went really well,” Principal Alicia Mitchell said. “We’re following all the guidelines.”
Before students can get inside, they must fill out an online health screening form and pass a temperature check. Once in the classroom, they wear masks and sit six feet apart from other students, following instruction on laptops.
Administrators started with freshman and the sophomore class — which includes a number of transfer students — to get them better acquainted with the campus, Mitchell said.
It’s unclear when cohorts of juniors and seniors will resume in-person learning.
“We would love to have them back,” she said. “But we also want to do it safely.”
Local health officer Dr. Chris Spitters talks with county school leaders every two weeks. Although COVID case counts have started to rise, after a long period of decline, his guidelines for schools haven’t changed.
Snohomish County is still in the moderate-risk category for school reopenings, according to the state. Under state guidelines, that designation advises phasing elementary students back to school with a hybrid schedule.
Some public school districts — Monroe, Stanwood-Camano, Sultan and Arlington — have either brought, or plan to bring elementary students back for in-person learning.
But private schools have repeatedly said their smaller student populations make it easier for them to safely resume in-person instruction.
In total, Archbishop Murphy has about 460 students — far fewer than any of the nearby public high schools.
Mitchell, who used to teach at the public Lake Washington High School, said issues like hallway crowding would be a major hurdle for larger schools.
“I don’t know how they’d pull it off,” she said.
High schoolers also pose a greater risk of transmission because they tend to have larger social circles than younger students.
“We try to talk about that to them all the time,” Mitchell said. “Just because we’re starting to come back in some capacity doesn’t mean there still isn’t a virus out there.”
Public health experts have long said that as schools reopen, COVID cases on campus are inevitable.
At Archbishop Murphy, students who become symptomatic will be sent to an isolation room where they can be safely sent home.
“That’s adjacent to my office so I can supervise,” Mitchell said. “We also have additional (personal protective equipment) for anyone who may need to interact with a potentially sick student or staff member.”
Students also have the option of continuing with remote learning. Mitchell estimated that about 88% of students have opted to come back to class.