Fire-related problems forced late start
For the first time in 181 days, Methow Valley schools pulsed with students and teachers embarking on an unusual school year with a mix of in-person and remote education. All students, from kindergarten through 12th grade, started the term on Monday (Sept. 14) — some in the school buildings and others from home.
“It’s a good first day. It’s certainly a unique one,” Methow Valley Elementary Principal Paul Gutzler said. “There’ve been lots of smiles — even tears from some parents.”
Input about the school schedule can be sent to Methow Valley School District Supt. Tom Venable at email@example.com by Monday (Sept. 21).
The district had previously delayed the start date by eight days to allow for more COVID preparations; coordinate class assignments; and provide training for staff, students and parents. Then last week the opening was postponed again because of power and phone outages and unhealthy air.
School was supposed to start on Tuesday, Sept. 8, but, as reports from students and parents with no cell service and no internet connection piled up last week, the district delayed the start of school by another week to ensure that all students could participate.
The forecast for continued unhealthy air quality in the Methow Valley — when the district had planned to hold as many classes as possible outdoors to protect students and staff from COVID transmission — prompted administrators to delay the start date, Methow Valley Supt. Tom Venable said in a letter to school families last week
“Based upon this information, not only does it seem unreasonable to expect that these conditions will serve as the optimal launchpad for a successful year of teaching and learning, but the thought of asking students and staff to engage in learning outdoors when the air quality is solidly in the unhealthy range or be placed in a building with the windows closed during a pandemic fueled by an airborne illness seems irresponsible and better yet, avoidable,” Venable said.
Although air quality was still in the “hazardous” zone on Monday, tests of indoor air quality indicate that the schools’ HVAC system and air purifiers are working well to maintain satisfactory indoor air quality, Venable said in a letter to families on Sunday (Sept. 13).
District officials also consulted with public health experts, who support time spent inside when following health protocols, including small groups of socially distanced students wearing masks in ventilated classrooms with air purifiers, Venable said.
All students and staff are being checked for COVID symptoms and exposure every day, and there will be regular testing. Mask breaks for students are scheduled throughout the day, Gutzler said. Once the air quality improves, the educators plan to do as much teaching outdoors as possible.
About three-fourths of students have chosen the “hybrid” model. Since students are split into two groups, each getting two days of in-person instruction and three of remote learning, only about 35% of students are on campus at a time, Gutzler said.
The district is hoping that dates for graduation and the last day of school can be preserved through minor adjustments to the school calendar. Options include reducing the number of professional development days, using the one scheduled snow day for classes, or adding approximately six minutes of instructional time each day, Venable said. The district will work with labor unions for teachers and other staff in making any adjustments.
The school district hopes to finalize the academic-year calendar by Friday, Oct. 2. Graduation is currently set for June 4, 2021, and the last day of school is scheduled for June 11.