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Update on Oct. 27:
Everett Public Schools will pause on its plans to return students to school

School districts put a pause on the return to school plan

Chart from Snohomish Health District

New cases in Snohomish County were on the decline from July to September. The recent spike in cases has health district officials cautious about students returning to schools. The chart represents data as current as early October for the trend line of cases per 100,000.

SNOHOMISH COUNTY — The challenge of online schooling is apparent and the desire to go back to the classroom seems to outweigh the risk of COVID-19 in the eyes of students and parents. Despite this, school districts are forced to make the difficult decision; risk furthering the spread of COVID-19 or risk the mental health of students struggling with remote learning. 
The Snohomish Health District sent an email to all Snohomish County school districts on Oct. 12 requesting to pause planning of the return to schools.
 “We understand many of you had plans under way to have some students return later this week or next week. You may go ahead and continue with those plans if you’d like, focused specifically on K-3 and special needs students. Please hold off plans to layer in beyond that for now,” the email said.
Back in September, the health district released a statement stating the downward trend in cases warranted the possible return of the young and special education students. That is no longer the situation, unfortunately, case numbers have once again begun to rise. The health district is allowing schools to carry out plans to bring back select groups of students, but requests that no additional students be sent back until case numbers begin to fall.
The health district said the uptick in cases was higher than expected. The rolling two-week case count period, that ended Oct. 10, reported a case rate of 72 new cases per 100,000 people, in Snohomish County. The goal is less than 25 new cases in a two-week span, numbers the county has not seen since the beginning of June.
This increase in cases is expected to continue due to fall festivities like Halloween parties. The health district has also said they have received reports of “unofficial homecoming parties.” 
Although currently in the planning process, Snohomish and Everett school districts have yet to have students on campus full time, while Monroe School District had Kindergartners return to classrooms on Monday Oct. 12.
“In alignment with guidance from the Snohomish County Health District, we will wait at least three weeks before bringing any additional grade levels back for in-person learning,” Monroe School District spokeswoman, Tamra Krache said. “If at that time, COVID-19 activity in the schools and community remains stable or is improving, then we will proceed with bringing additional elementary grades back.”
The majority of the students within Snohomish County have been attending school 100% remotely since the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year. Snohomish, Everett and Monroe school districts have been planning for the return since August. 
Everett School District sent an email out to families on Friday, Oct. 16 thanking families for their patience and stating they are ready to bring the “most vulnerable students” back in the classroom. 
“Snohomish County Health District reported an increase in local COVID cases and cautioned return to the classroom for students unless plans were in place and they were high need students,” the email said. “Plans have been in motion for weeks to bring four groups of self-contained special education students back, and our goal is Nov. 2.”
About 175 students will be spread out across 19 Everett School District buildings to ensure social distancing. Special education students are not able to access the services they need in a remote learning setting.
Last week the Snohomish school board held a meeting to discuss the timeline for return in response to the health district. The message from parents was apparent; kids need to be in school. During the public comment period of the meeting a numerous amount of district employees, who have children within the district, expressed their fears regarding the prolonged remote learning model.
A Machias Elementary school teacher, who has a senior at SHS, says the remote learning is having a negative impact on her daughter. Another parent/teacher said her son has a difficult time focusing in the classroom and learning remotely is extremely difficult with the temptation of the internet as a distraction.
Board Member Shauna Ballas, who in August was adamant about keeping kids safe by remote learning has since reversed her opinion and believes the adverse effects of students lacking the social interactions at school could be detrimental to their mental health. Ballas said recently she was asked if she thought it was safe enough to send her grandchild back to school, she was uncertain. Since then, Ballas has toured multiple schools in the district to see the precautions taking place and was pleased with what she saw. In her eyes, keeping kids out of school for another year is not acceptable.
While the overwhelming support was in favor of returning to school, a number of health care professionals commented during the meeting saying that the risk is too high to be sending students back right now.
Snohomish Superintendent, Kent Kultgen said this is not an easy choice, but the updates received from the health district suggests the district put a hold on their plans. 
“As soon as the downward trend in cases is there, were ready to go,” Kultgen said.

Update on Oct. 27:
Everett Public Schools will pause on its plans to return students to school
An announcement from the district is below:

Everett Public Schools will remain in full remote learning until January 11, at which time they will begin bringing their youngest students back only if health conditions allow. This does not apply to the Developmental Kindergarten, Developmental Pre-K, Life Skills and Strive students, whom are now planned to return to the classroom on November 16, a two-week delay from the original announcement.

This was not an easy decision, but the district does not want to transition to hybrid learning, only to have to close buildings again due to infections. They also want to provide consistent, stable information for families, so they do not worry about information and conditions changing weekly.

“We realize this may be disappointing for many of our students, families, and staff, but we believe it is necessary due to the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases over the previous several weeks,” stated Superintendent Ian Saltzman.

In addition to the amazing volume of community feedback the district received through their Let’s Connect sessions, part of their decision-making includes reviewing several metrics weekly to determine if the time is right for a return to school. At this time, the prime concern and the reason for their delay to in-person learning is growth in COVID-19 positive cases in Snohomish County.

“We look forward to bringing all our students back to the classroom, but understand we need to start with smaller groups, so we are bringing back our most vulnerable students first,” Saltzman added. The students returning on November 16, 2020 will follow safety protocols set forth by the health district. The remaining students will be phased-in beginning January 11 at the earliest and will be based on current COVID rates.

“The health, safety, and well-being of our school community remains our top priority,” Salzman continued. “We are following sound protocols aligned with expert health guidance to ensure we are doing everything we can to protect everyone’s health.” In preparation for return to school buildings the district developed a Family COVID-19 Handbook that contains information on how they will be keeping students safe, and things parents should know.

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