Spokane Public Schools weighing options for reopening school, safety a priority

SPOKANE, Wash. — The closer it gets to the start of the school year, the more details we get about what exactly it will look like.

Teachers, parents and other school staff are working to figure out how to safely bring kids back into classrooms. There are all sorts of different moving parts to figure out how schools will function in the fall.

The Washington Education Association (WEA) says one challenge school districts are now facing is figuring out how to reopen as cases continue to rise locally and across the state.

“We need to ensure that if we are going to return to school and that’s still a big if, that school districts have the necessary supports, the necessary resources to be able to ensure that schooling is successful,” said Larry Delaney, the president of WEA.

The Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction released guidelines earlier in the summer to help local school districts navigate reopening.

One big rule is to keep desks spaced six feet apart. Students will also have to wear masks at all times. Because of the six feet rule, it’s made it even more difficult to figure out what school will look like.

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Dr. Mark Anderson, the associate superintendent of Spokane Public Schools, said there were questions to the Washington State Department of Health on if districts could use plexiglass between desks so they can be a little closer together. That was not approved. So, districts are having to find a way to make that work.

Spokane Public Schools created a task force to figure out how to reopen this fall. It is looking at several options.

Most classrooms will only be able to have 21 kids in there at most. Anderson said that was already the norm for kindergarten through third grade classes. So, for fourth through sixth graders, Anderson said they’re looking at alternating schedules for them.

Lunch could also be eaten in the classrooms instead of the cafeteria.

“At our elementary schools, we’ve been looking at how we would feed students in the cafeteria six feet apart, and it’s almost logistically not possible,” Anderson said. “So, we’re going to probably do a come down to the cafeteria, grab some lunch in a grab and go sack, go back to your classroom and sit at your desk which is six feet apart to eat your lunch. It could be go to recess first and then come in, grab your lunch and go to your classroom.”

For middle and high schools, Anderson said they’re still trying to figure that one out, possibly having three different lunch periods to alternate.

As for classes for the middle and high school students, Anderson said they are “definitely” looking at the alternating schedules.

For example, Group A could be going to school Monday, Wednesday and every other Friday. Group B would be going to school Tuesday, Thursday and every other Friday. Days where students wouldn’t be at school, they’d be doing online work.

Anderson said they plan to improve distanced learning this fall, as well.

“We’re also going to one on one computing for all of our students. So, every student will have their own laptop this coming year, which has not been the case up until this year,” he said.

Anderson said they know some parents aren’t comfortable with sending their students to school without a vaccine, so the district will be developing a full online curriculum for that. It will also be needed just in case buildings have to close.

The biggest concern of trying to figure out school in the fall is the safety of staff and students.

Delaney said teachers in their union tell them they’re worried for their health, their own families health and the students they teach.

“Our members have concerns about the availability of PPE, they have concerns about whether the air in their classrooms is going to be ventilated. Do school districts have the ability to clean and sanitize? There’s so many questions that still don’t have answers,” Delaney said.

Anderson told 4 News Now that with federal emergency money, they’ll be able to buy more cleaning and disinfecting products. They will also be purchasing face masks and shields for their teachers and students who can’t access them.

“We felt our teachers, when they’re teaching, in order for students to be able to see their face and facial expression, you can imagine a primary student trying to sound out words and the teacher’s got a mask on,” he continued. ” We were able to get the department of health to agree to letting teachers, when they’re instructing, use a face shield and so that kids can see their faces.”

The teachers will be wearing masks when they’re moving around in their classroom, in the halls, etc.

The Spokane Public School District’s task force will be holding different webinars over Zoom to explain more about what school could look like, and parents will be able to ask questions.

The first one will be this Thursday. You can find more information on how to participate here.

RELATED: SPS wants students back in the fall, invites parents to attend webinars

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