BOTHELL — Schools across Snohomish County have been scrambling to keep their doors open as a surge in COVID cases has left classes without teachers, bus routes without drivers and cafeterias without cooks.
“The reality is staffing is just getting thinner and thinner. … The district has done the best they can, they’ve sent people from the district office to help,” said Amy Stevenson, a music teacher at Lynnwood High School. “It’s been all hands on deck but it’s just not enough.”
She received an email at 11:09 a.m. Wednesday notifying her the school would transition online the next day. Before that, Edmonds School District’s messaging suggested they were willing to do anything they could to keep schools open.
Both Lynnwood High and Mountlake Terrace Elementary schools announced plans to go remote starting Thursday. The district later announced College Place Elementary would also go remote beginning Friday. Lynnwood High is slated to return to in-person learning on Tuesday, Mountlake Terrace will tentatively return Jan. 20, and College Place should return Jan. 24. Those dates are based on current projections of when staff can return to support building operations and in-person learning.
Last week, school leaders in districts like Everett and Marysville warned of a looming transition to online learning, though it has still come as a surprise to parents and educators as districts have pushed to keep students in classrooms.
“It is our strong belief that students should continue to attend school in-person, on a regular schedule,” Lake Stevens School District Superintendent Ken Collins wrote in a Monday email to families. However, the district has a plan to make the transition if it needs.
District spokesperson Jayme Taylor said there’s no set threshold for a transition, but the district will consider a “myriad of factors” before making the decision. This includes the number of cases in staff and students in a specific school or building, the number of close contacts, number of staff on leave due to exposure and number of available substitutes available to cover absences.
Collins said he and others from the district office have been substitute teaching.
Meanwhile, the Lake Stevens district announced the cancellation of a school bus route due to a driver shortage.
We need ten bus drives to cover our current routes, Taylor said. “Right now, our Transportation Department office staff who are certified drivers have been driving routes each day to provide needed coverage.”
The district is hiring drivers.
Earlier this week, Marysville School District was among the first in the county to begin making the shift to remote learning.
Now, Kellogg Marsh and Quil Ceda Tulalip elementary schools; Cedarcrest and Totem middle schools; and Legacy and Tulalip Heritage high schools are all learning remotely.
District spokesperson Jodi Runyon said schools are closing because there are not enough teachers and staff to operate effectively. And in some cases, as many as half of students weren’t coming to class. The threshold for the district to consider transitioning schools to remote instruction is a student absence rate of more than 50%.
It’s a similar story in Edmonds Schools.
“Prior to winter break we had some kids quarantine as close contacts,” Stevenson said Thursday. “Since break it just grew and grew and grew. In every class there are numbers of kids quarantining and COVID positive. And yesterday morning in my first three classes between 30% to 50% of kids were gone.”
In Monroe, district officials announced the high school would be transitioning to remote learning on Thursday, with an expected return on Tuesday.
Three elementary school classrooms already had to move online prior to Monroe High’s closure. The threshold for possible campus closure is 20% of classrooms shuttered or 10% of the student body with active COVID cases.
“The kids are super stressed about this,” Stevenson said Thursday. “Many are overwhelmed and teachers are aware of that. In school (this week) everything was overwhelmed by COVID. Kids were betting if we were going to go online. I don’t know what the right choice is, but yesterday there was a sense that there wasn’t a lot of teaching and learning — mostly just triage.”