The Oak Harbor School Board made the unanimous decision Monday night to employ a phased plan for reopening schools in the fall.
The school board meeting was extended a few times so the board could take the time to listen to public comment, review survey data and guidance, walk through the details of the plan and consider all sides of the issue, said Conor Laffey, Oak Harbor Public Schools communications officer.
The plan for the school district follows guidance from the Washington State Department of Health and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and is endorsed by Island County Public Health.
It outlines conditions which must be met in order for hybrid learning, a combination of in-person education and distance learning, to take place.
If the four-week Island County case average remains below 50 positive COVID cases per 100,000 people, grades pre-school through fourth grade will be the first to begin the school year with “Hybrid Rotation.” This type of learning will allow half of the students to attend in-person classes while the other half learns at home for two days, and then the groups will rotate for two more days.
This means that the younger grades will have two days of in-person learning and three days of remote learning per week.
Laffey said in an email that the plan “starts small with less than half of our elementary students on campus with class sizes of around nine to 11 students just two days a week.”
The rest of the grades will begin the school year in “Distance Plus,” meaning classes will take place virtually and there will be limited on-site services for individuals and small groups including some special education students, English learners and homeless students.
If community conditions worsen and the goal is not met because of an increase in COVID cases above 50 per 100,000 over the four-week period, every grade will begin in Distance Plus.
After the start of the school year, if the four-week county average is below 35 cases out of 100,000 and there have been no outbreaks in any of the Oak Harbor schools, then fifth and sixth grades will begin Hybrid Rotation.
If the goal is not met, it will need to be evaluated again in four weeks.
The remainder of the plan allows a slow transition for the rest of the older grades to begin Hybrid Rotation, with evaluation every four weeks to ensure the four-week average stays below 35 cases out of 100,000.
Should an outbreak occur in the classroom, the class will move to Distance Plus, quarantine for two weeks and then return to Hybrid Rotation.
If an outbreak occurs in 10 percent or more of classes, the school will move to Distance Plus, quarantine for two weeks and then return to Hybrid Rotation.
An outbreak is defined by the Washington State Department of Health as two or more positive COVID-19 cases linked in a single classroom.
Laffey said some of the COVID-19 safety measures that will be implemented in the classrooms include six feet of spacing between desks, face coverings worn by staff and students, individual sets of school supplies provided for each student and increased outside air and filtration.
Within the schools, there will be Plexiglas installed in front offices, 140 new hand sanitizer dispensers and personal protective equipment, including masks, available for those who need them.
Laffey said choice is the key for families. About 25 percent of families have indicated that they prefer distance learning only, which will be offered as an alternative in the phased plan.
“This also gives our staff in high-risk categories teaching opportunities that do not involve in-person instruction if they need it,” Laffey said.
Families will also be able to choose Oak Harbor Virtual Academy or HomeConnection homeschooling.
“There is no perfect plan,” Laffey said. “However, this plan strikes the right balance by addressing safety issues, social-emotional, and learning concerns while following the guidance from the department of health.”
This story originally appeared in the Whidbey News-Times, a sister publication to The Herald.