A closer look at what schools could look like in the fall



Task force looking at options to get students back into classrooms this fall

SPOKANE, Wash. — Many are wondering what school will look like in the fall, considering the last three months of this school year were all online learning. The Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) is looking at a few options.

OSPI created a task force about a month ago to figure out what’s next. It’s comprised of more than 100 educators across the state.

Previously, Spokane Public Schools told 4 News Now that OSPI is considering three main options.

  • Students could return to class in-person, but it will not look the same.
  • Students could continue distanced learning like they are now.
  • Students could alternate between in person and distanced learning, rotating out of classrooms.
  • Task force looking at options to get students back into classrooms this fall

RELATED: Task force looking at options to get students back into classrooms this fall

Each of these options has its own complications, situations the task force is trying to figure out.

For the last option, if students were to rotate between being in the classroom and learning from home, that could create complications for parents who can’t watch their children. Finding child care is already tough enough.

“The other thing that is of concern to us is we’ve got no idea how this will impact the child to going to school for a week, and go home for a week and then come back to school,” explained Kelly Shea, the superintendent for the East Valley School District.

If students were to return to the classroom, there would be many new measures put in place.

Students will have be at appropriate distances from each other, spacing desks 6 feet apart. Shea said that would mean there could be 8 to 12 students in each classroom, at least for his district.

If there are only that many students in a classroom, that means schools would need more teachers.

“We don’t have enough teachers to cover that and we certainly cannot afford to do that,” Shea said.

Buses would also only have up to 10 children, whereas normally there would be 40 to 65 students on them.

“We don’t have enough buses to send out to pick everybody up. To get everybody, we’ll have to run those buses multiple times which means our cost will increase and cost is a big factor in all the ideas that we’re talking about in terms of PPE and social distancing,” he added.

However, Shea does believe students need to be back in the classroom, whatever that may look like.

“We need to have that face-to-face contact with our students, so that’s what we’re looking for,” he said.

That’s the hope for Heather Larson, whose daughter just graduated from North Central High School.

Larson said some classes were easy for her daughter online, others were not.

“I hope they can successfully transition them back in to, you know, going back to school,” she said.

For students whose parents can’t help them with school work, it’s even harder. Larson is currently helping one family through that.

“They’re from Vietnam, they don’t understand a lot of the homework at all. Of course, I got to play teacher in that role. Some of it has been a big learning experience for me,” she said.

It’s been difficult for her to help with the schoolwork as well. Larson couldn’t imagine what the students are going through. She believes they need to be back in the classroom to get face-to-face instruction, too.

“These kiddos are lost without their parents being able to help them and they don’t have teachers to help them, they’re going to lose even more of that knowledge and get farther behind,” she said. “Just as a parent that worries me.”

Shea says he’s heard that issue before: Students not learning at the same rate as others in distanced learning. He said when students come back to school every September, students’ knowledge are “spread out across a spectrum.” Meaning some are either above grade level, at grade level and below.

“I have complete confidence in our educators, they will assess their kids, they will determine where our children are and will begin to create instruction that’s differentiated to meet the needs of their kid,” he said. “So, yes, we have missed an extra two-and-a-half months besides the normal summer time, but this idea that we’re going to get kids that are all over the spectrum is no different than any other year.”

She said bringing the kids back into the classroom is more than just about the safety from the pandemic.

“We’re very concerned about how many children are being left at home, taking care of themselves,” he said.

Reports of  child abuse and domestic violence have decreased since people have been ordered to stay home. Going to school helps educators know if something is going on in their students’ lives.

“It helps them get through their day, it helps them get through their week to succeed, not just in school but in life,” he said. “We seem to be putting that second to the coronavirus, and I’m hoping that we look at it more broadly and recognize that the safety and well being of our children is much wider than just one pandemic.”

OSPI’s task force says it will give school guidance by the end of this week. The East Valley School District and Spokane Public Schools says it will figure out its own plans after they get that guidance from the state.

The Idaho State Board of Education says it is working through some options, too.

President Debbie Critchfield said they have two committees working on reopening. One is about school operations. The second committee is looking at the “digital divide.”

Critchfield says they are looking at mixed learning models to increase devices and connectivity.

The committees will make recommendations to the board and Governor toward the end of June.

“We hope to provide guidance and support as local districts make decisions as well as provide access to more technology through stimulus funds,” she added.

RELATED: Spokane Public Schools creates task force to plan for next school year