EVERETT — Public school students in Snohomish County are getting a chance to get back in a classroom before the school year ends.
Exactly when and how varies district to district. Many are sorting through details with teachers and parents.
They just know it has to happen.
An emergency proclamation issued by Gov. Jay Inslee set deadlines for resuming in-person instruction by April 5 for kindergarten through sixth-grade students and April 19 for grades seven to 12.
Students can continue in fully remote learning or choose a hybrid schedule of at least two days of face-to-face instruction and the rest of the time in remote learning.
For Stanwood, Sultan, Granite Falls and Index schools, the edict is a moot point. Each has offered students of all grades a shot at getting back in school.
The Arlington School District will join the club Monday when high school students return, and the Lakewood School District welcomes back its ninth through 12th-graders on March 29.
“I feel like every community has its own climate,” said Arlington schools Superintendent Chrys Sweeting of the differing pace of reopening around the county. “We know it’s important to get back to normal, but it’s important for everybody to be safe.”
Elsewhere, district leaders vow to meet the April 19 deadline, though they are far from ready.
Most are in the midst of negotiating agreements with teachers as to how schools will operate when reopening happens.
At the same time, districts are asking families if their children will return to campus or not, because knowing the number of students is a critical piece of the puzzle.
The Everett School District, for example, has restarted in-person instruction for kindergarten through fifth grades, but more than half of the students chose not to return. Of the 9,199 students in those grades, 4,846 remained in fully remote learning and 4,353 came back, according to district stats.
Conversations were under way for bringing back the remaining grades when Inslee’s edict arrived.
“We’re working closely with the district on what a return looks like. There are many details that still need to be worked out,” said Jared Kink, president of the Everett Education Association, which represents teachers. “The proclamation to direct students back to school, although well-intended, shows a lack of understanding around the complexities of getting students back to school. The governor should be making our jobs easier, not harder.”
One of the leading factors for Inslee’s directive was a federal order to vaccinate teachers and the goal of getting each educator a dose by the end of March.
Across the county, school leaders are pairing with pharmacies to host vaccine clinics for staff. Doses for educators come from a federal program, which bypasses state agencies and gets supply directly to local pharmacies.
So far, the Everett, Snohomish and Lakewood districts have provided shots for employees, while others are in the planning stages.
Vaccinating school staff was intended to ease educators’ fears about returning to the classroom during a pandemic.
For months, public health experts and state leaders tried to make the case that in-person instruction could be done safely as long as districts followed safety protocols.
Data from the state Department of Health and the Snohomish Health District show that while students and staff may show up to school with COVID, safety measures have proven effective at limiting in-class transmission.
In Snohomish County, fewer than a third of all cases linked to schools from August to February were actually contracted on campus.
Right now in Mukilteo, only second-graders are back on campus. First graders start Monday, with kindergartners arriving March 29 and grades 3-5 due back after the April spring break.
“We will meet the goal of offering in-person learning as outlined in the governor’s timeline,” district spokeswoman Diane Bradford wrote in an email.
Many details, especially for secondary grades, are the topic of ongoing negotiations between the district and the teachers union.
“We have taken a careful approach to reopening. Our work with the district has resulted in detailed and safe plans to return groups of students to our buildings,” Dana Wiebe and Tory Kartchner, the outgoing and incoming leaders of the Mukilteo Education Association, wrote in an email. “While you are correct that Governor Inslee’s executive order does move up our timeline for elementary, we will be able to return all of K-5 under the same model as our primary students.”
Mukilteo School Board President Michael Simmons said he didn’t view the governor’s order as added pressure, since conversations on getting all grades back on campus had been under way.
“We’ll meet the governor’s directive,” he said. “But each district has its own circumstances that they have to be mindful of.”
The pace of reopening high schools will pick up next month. The Darrington School District is aiming for April 12, per its website. Monroe announced last week that students in grades 6-12 will begin returning April 14 and 15. Under their hybrid schedule, students will get two full days of classes each week.
Marysville and Lake Stevens are penciling in April 19, the same as Everett and Mukilteo.
On Monday, the Edmonds School District is to resume in-person learning for kindergarten through second grade.
“The district is working with our employee groups so we can move quickly and effectively to follow the orders set out by the governor to offer an option for in-person learning to all of our students by mid-April,” Superintendent Gustavo Balderas said in a statement last week.
Jerry Cornfield: firstname.lastname@example.org | @dospueblos