Plan: GCD schools to start totally online

Board to meet again tonight on plan, staffing level


Last updated 8/13/2020 at 12:55pm

All students in the Grand Coulee Dam School District will start the year with online-only classes, according to a plan laid out Monday night to school board directors by Superintendent Paul Turner.

In a Zoom board meeting with the directors and 26 other people Monday evening, Turner said the Okanogan County Health officer wouldn’t grant a waiver for the district to allow it to open with kids in physical classrooms.

Okanogan County Public Health Officer John McCarthy isn’t alone in that stance. He and his counterparts in Grant, Chelan, Douglas, and Kittitas counties issued a joint statement Tuesday afternoon laying out the ground rules for opening schools this fall, and none of the North Central Washington counties are close to qualifying, by a long shot.

Turner said the start date should be set at Sept. 2, with the first three days crucial for training and orienting parents and students to the methods and equipment they’ll be using for online school. School staff will be busy contacting parents and guardians in the meantime to set it all up.

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“The county Health Officers do not support a return to in-person classroom instruction when the county’s incidence of COVID-19 is above 75 cases per 100,000 for 2 consecutive weeks (14 days),” their statement reads.

That rate for Okanogan County, where Lake Roosevelt Schools operate, was 517.2 as of Monday and has been the worst in the state for weeks by that measure of the density of the disease in the population. Grant and Douglas counties aren’t far behind.

Turner, worried about students needing their classroom teachers and about the “huge number of students” with no access to the internet, said he intends to keep applying for a waiver for this school district, which is far from the population centers where Covid-19 is wildly prevalent in local counties: Moses Lake and others in Grant County, Brewster by far in Okanogan County.

The health officers set thresholds for county levels at which they would endorse graduating to more in-school education: a hybrid approach for K-5 students and other “educationally high-risk” students when the incidence rate falls below 75, with precautions; full in school classes, with precautions, for all students when it falls to 25.

Doing the math, Turner told the board that would translate to a local actual case rate, for a population of about 5,000 in the district, of less than one case in a two-week period in the local area before schools could fully open again.

The all-time case count for the Electric City-to-Nespelem area is 24, by The Star’s count of available county data, but Turner said it is widely expected the state will see a spike in Covid-19 cases when schools begin to reopen.

“If you already know there will be a spike when school starts back up, then avoid it,” commented one person in the chat feature during the meeting. “There has already been a huge spike in the country with other schools that have started to reopen. So you should look at that and learn from it and not follow suit with them.”

Much of the school board meeting Monday was spent on the district’s plan for a cohort or “pod”-based scheme for keeping just a few kids together during the school day, once in-school teaching does open up. That could limit the spread of any possible infection, sending just those pod students home instead of closing the whole school.

Turner sees decisions on moving forward happening on a somewhat flexible, perhaps monthly basis, but several called for planning a whole quarter at a time, including school board members.

Those following the meeting and commenting in the chat noted dozens of other concerns and questions. Turner said he’d try to directly address those about the general plan in a special board meeting tonight over Zoom at 5:30 p.m. to be called to ratify the plan so it can be submitted to the state. Others questions he will put off until a weekly “Q&A” Thursday Zoom session open to all.

Turner said he should have an idea about possible staff reductions coming by the Wednesday meeting.

He said districts in Nespelem, Omak, Okanogan, Brewster and Wilbur will also start the year online only.


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