Schools in Marysville and elsewhere pivot as COVID spreads

Parents find they have to be flexible as districts react to outbreaks and shortages of staff and test kits.

MARYSVILLE — Terry and Lahneen Fast Horse learned in a Friday phone call from the school district that one of their two elementary-age children would be staying home Monday.

During a Monday phone call with a Daily Herald reporter, Terry Fast Horse interrupted the conversation to check whether his youngest, Robert, a second-grader at Quil Ceda Tulalip Elementary, was on task.

“Robert, are you supposed to be Zooming in still?” Terry Fast Horse shouted. “Go get back on and find out.”

In-person learning in the Marysville School District has been upended by an omicron-driven case surge.

It’s a similar story in nearby districts, including the Everett Public Schools, which informed families last week of the possibility of a “quick pivot to remote learning” due to the direction of the state Department of Health, the Snohomish Health District or “the district’s ability to have enough staff given absences due to illness.”

The Monroe School District announced Monday that it was experiencing a COVID-19 testing supply shortage. In a statement, the district said it tested an average of 200 people each day last week, “and if that trend continues today, we will only be able to test the first 60 that arrive. After these tests are gone, we will have to temporarily close our testing site until the shipment of tests arrives.”

The shortage threatened to affect the schools’ athletic programs.

No Monroe schools have had to close, but classrooms in three elementary schools have had to move online, district chief of student services David Paratore told School Board members Monday evening.

The threshold for possible campus closure is 20% of classrooms shuttered or 10% of the student body with active COVID cases.

Marysville School District interim superintendent Chris Pearson warned last week that there could be “major transitions” to online learning as a result of staffing shortages.

“On any given day we are in danger of having to shut down the school,” he said during a School Board meeting last week.

Nearly 40 staff members and 117 students across the district’s elementary schools tested postive for COVID-19 last week.

The Fast Horses’ fourth-grader, Syris, who attends Liberty Elementary, also learned remotely Monday due to a close contact reported to the family.

The couple says the district didn’t contact them with new information about Liberty’s situation.

Overall, the messaging from the Marysville School District has been a little unclear, Terry Fast Horse said. But for now, the couple is taking time off work to be home with their kids as they learn online.

A Monday email to Quil Ceda families announced that the school expects to return to in-person learning on Jan. 18.

“… this is not a case where the health department is dictating closure due to an on-campus outbreak,” the email stated. “This decision was made by our district due to our inability to safely operate school as a result of so many staff being absent and the number of unfilled sub(stitute) positions.”

The email continued, “we did not come to this decision lightly, and we recognize these are not ideal circumstances. As always though, we greatly appreciate your patience and flexibility as we navigate the current surge of Covid infections and the subsequent impact on our school.”

The Marysville School Board voted last week to participate in the Test to Stay Program through the Washington Department of Health, to help reduce the number of days students identified as COVID-19 close contacts at school must quarantine.

The Marysville School District did not return a Herald reporter’s call or email.

Herald writer Jake Goldstein-Street contributed.

Isabella Breda: 425-339-3192; Twitter: @BredaIsabella.

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