A new year is getting under way for public schools across Snohomish County.
For tens of thousands of students it’s already an experience without precedent.
Their classrooms are shuttered and their classes conducted online. They will be learning via laptops and iPhones, using thumb drives and videos.
Questions abound. Answers can vary day-to-day, depending on the course of the pandemic, and school district to school district, depending on the decisions of school boards. What happens in schools in Everett will differ from those in Edmonds from those in Arlington and, you get the point.
Here are 10 things to know as those students plus their parents, teachers and school communities begin the journey.
Q: Why are students not back in classrooms?
A: The simple answer is COVID-19. While the rate of new coronavirus infections in Snohomish County is declining, it is still at a level considered risky for in-person instruction. Gov. Jay Inslee and state health officials recommend 100% remote learning for schools in counties where the infection rate exceeds 75 cases per 100,000 residents for a two-week period. They recommend starting to bring elementary students back for some face-to-face instruction when the rate dips to between 25 and 75 cases and move toward re-opening for all grade levels, at least a couple days a week, when the rate is at or below 25 new cases. Snohomish County’s rate was 54 per 100,000 residents for the two-week period ending Aug. 29. To be clear, Inslee has not ordered the closure of schools this fall as he did in Spring. Leaders of each school district are empowered to decide how to proceed. At this point, in Snohomish County, all districts are following the state guidelines and local health officer recommendations.
Q: Will anyone be on campus?
A: Yes, though how many and under what circumstances will depend on the district. Many districts are allowing teachers to work from their empty classrooms. Administrators and custodians will be around. Students with special needs, and learning or language challenges could be permitted to come to school to receive one-on-one instruction. Child care providers will be operating on some campuses which means students could find themselves on their computer in a classroom.
Q: Will the school day and year be shorter?
A: No and no. The school year will last 180 days. Students must receive a minimum number of hours of instruction, an average of 1,027 across all grade levels. How each day is spent, however, will differ among districts. Elementary students are likely to spend most mornings on subjects like math, language and science with a blend of real-time instruction with a teacher and independent learning assignments. Secondary students will have different classes by period as they always have. Teachers will devise how to provide instruction in those blocks of time. Each district has adopted a reopening plan with a daily schedule for each grade. One thing is certain: Students will not be online for six consecutive hours every day.
Q: Will grades be given?
A: Yes. The A-F system will be used in middle schools and high schools. Districts will set the guideposts for scoring or evaluating an elementary student’s performance. Also, like the Spring, a student could receive an “incomplete” in certain circumstances. It is not typically an option but will be allowed.
Q: Will attendance be taken?
A: Yes. School districts are required to take daily attendance for each student enrolled on any day when there is planned instructional activities. Guidelines issued by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) suggest a student can be counted as present when they log in each day to the district’s learning management systems, interact with an instructor by phone, email or video; are seen participating in a task or if they turn in a required assignment. In secondary grades, where students have multiple classes, attendance needs to be recorded for each period.
Q: Will there still be recess?
A: Yes. Lunch too. And, for students in secondary grades, passing time between classes.
Q: Will state assessment tests be given?
A: Yes, but that could change. Last Spring, when schools abruptly closed and moved online, the federal Department of Education waived the requirement for the state to carry out Smarter Balanced assessments in English Language Arts and math. OSPI is seeking a waiver for this school year.
Q: Will everyone be on Zoom?
A: No. It will be used widely but not exclusively. Students can expect to check in daily with other programs, such as Google Meet. A variety of apps and learning management systems will be deployed throughout the county including SeeSaw, Screencastify, Bloomz, Canvas and Google Classroom.
Q: Are P.E classes curbed?
A: No. There will be live instruction and use of videos. OSPI has developed an extensive guide of resources for teaching subjects including physical education. With each subject area, there are links to curriculum and materials for different grade levels.
Q: Will there be any after-school sports leagues?
A: Yes, in some places but maybe not here. Schools have the option, but it won’t be happening in Snohomish County. The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association laid out a plan in July that condensed the high school sports calendar into four shortened seasons and gave schools the option to delay the start of prep sports until Dec. 28, the first day of practices for Season 2 under the new plan. The four conferences with Snohomish County teams — Wesco, the Emerald Sound Conference, the Northwest Conference and the Northwest 2B/1B Conference — have all decided to postpone athletics until Season 2, which includes boys and girls basketball, wrestling, girls bowling, gymnastics and boys swim and dive. No leagues around the state have been reported to opt in to the WIAA’s Season 1, which begins Sept. 7. Prep football will be a part of Season 3, with practices starting on Feb. 17, 2021.
Herald writer Zac Hereth contributed to this report.