COVID protocols will be practiced
The Methow Valley School District confirmed last week that it will offer a choice of in-person and remote learning, after consultation with Okanogan County Public Health.
Okanogan County Health Officer John McCarthy was supportive of the decision by the school board to provide some in-person instruction. He also acknowledged the additional time the school took to evaluate the results of community COVID testing and to train staff in disease-prevention protocols, Methow Valley School District Supt. Tom Venable said.
There was only one positive COVID case among the 650 people who came out for free tests in Winthrop and Twisp at the end of August, and that case was in an individual who lives in the Oroville area, according to Public Health. Although infection rates in the county surged this summer, there have been just 11 COVID cases in the Methow Valley since March.
McCarthy appreciated that the district provided options to students and families — a hybrid model with two days of in-person instruction and three of remote learning, and a 100% remote option, Venable said.
Still, McCarthy was honest, noting that any in-person instruction involves some risk, Venable said.
McCarthy didn’t explicitly offer his opinion on in-person instruction, but said the testing results validated the district’s decision, Venable said. McCarthy reminded Venable that he has the authority to close schools if necessary to control a COVID outbreak.
The district will do baseline COVID testing for all staff and students who are participating in in-person instruction, clubs or other regular face-to-face activities, Venable said.
Venable and the school nurse met with Family Health Centers (FHC) on Tuesday (Sept. 1) to develop a testing plan that will minimize the risk of an outbreak. Details are still being worked out for regular follow-up testing for students and staff over the course of the year, Venable said. The district recently entered into a partnership with FHC, which will provide medical services at the schools.
Baseline testing for staff will be conducted during the first week of school. Students will be tested the week of Sept. 14. Families will receive notification about testing procedures and schedule and the ability to opt out of testing, Venable said. There will be no charge for the testing.
Regular testing, in conjunction with isolation and quarantine, has proven central at schools in other countries to keeping the inevitable COVID infection from becoming an outbreak, Venable said.
Based on current responses from parents and students, the district expects about three-quarters of students to be on-campus for two days a week of in-person instruction. Twenty percent will do remote education or home-schooling with the support of a district teacher, and 5% will use a different curriculum for remote learning than the one chosen by the school district, Venable said.
Methow Valley schools are among a small group of schools in the state that are offering some in-person instruction. All other schools in the county are starting the term with remote instruction, but may transition to a hybrid model as case numbers decrease in their areas, Venable said.
Both hybrid and remote-learning programs start on Tuesday (Sept. 8). Kindergarten starts on Monday, Sept. 14.