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School board changes own Covid rules to allow older kids back Monday

The return to school for seventh- through 12th-grade Lake Roosevelt students on Dec. 7 will continue under a plan modified in an emergency school board session Friday night that sets a much higher threshold for the number of local Covid cases it would take to stop in-person schooling.

The Grand Coulee Dam School District Board of Directors held an Emergency Board Meeting tonight via Zoom where they voted 4-1 to modify the plan, previously approved on Nov. 9, for junior/senior high students to return part time to physical school on Dec. 7.

Kindergarten through sixth-grade students have already been going to in-person school part time since October.

The surge in COVID cases worldwide, including in local counties, was discussed during the meeting.

The plan approved in November included requiring an incidence rate of less than 75 COVID-19 cases per a population of 100,000, which is the threshold set by the state and regional health authorities for in-person schooling to take place.

However, Superintendent Paul Turner told the board that, according to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, that Governor Jay Inslee intends to raise that number to 200 but is getting resistance from the teachers’ union.

“Most of our students need some in-person,” Turner asserted. He said school staff had worked hard to set up strict protocols to protect staff and students and concerns have been “minimal.” He asked the board to amend the plan to raise its high threshold number from 75 to 200.

“If 200 is the discussion point,” Turner said. “There must be some part of it that’s OK.”

Board Chairman George LaPlace said that it would be better to wait for the state to change the rule before changing the district plan. And he asserted that the district had apparently not been in compliance with the board’s current policy for weeks as the rate has been over 75. He said the board should be considering shutting down in-person school altogether, for all students, not expanding it to higher grades.

“This is not the way we’re supposed to be managing this,” he said.

According to county health district websites, Okanogan County, where LR is located, has a COVID incidence rate of 234 per 100,000 population as of Dec. 4. Grant County has an incidence rate of 965, as of Dec. 3, with many LR students coming from those two counties.

However, Turner presented data from Okanogan County Public Health that is more specific to the GCDSD, using numbers from local zip codes. He said that cumulatively the local COVID rate within the school district is at 134.

Board members Ken Stanger and Rich Black expressed support for changing the metric from a COVID rate of 75 to 200 as the high mark for not having in-person school.

Board members Alex Tufts and Carla Marconi expressed being on the fence on the issue, but ultimately voted in support of modifying the reopening plan with a new threshold of a local two-week incidence rate of 200 and keeping the start date for bringing back students in seventh grade and up under the same hybrid plan adopted in November, beginning Monday, Dec. 7.

LaPlace stood alone in voting against the change.

“I think we opened pandoras box,” he said.



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