Monroe first-graders return to classrooms
Update: The district pulled back its plans Wednesday, Nov. 18 and students are all 100% remote learning
MONROE — Despite a rising number of coronavirus cases in Snohomish County, the Monroe School District has decided to continue forward with plans to open schools up to in-person learning as of press time. On Tuesday, Nov. 17, first graders were introduced back to the classroom in a hybrid learning model.
First-grade students were split into two groups and spend two days a week in school while the remaining three days are remote learning.
Student groups A and B will attend school in an AA-BB schedule.
Group A will be doing in-person learning Mondays and Tuesdays, from 8:55 a.m. to noon, remote learning Wednesday through Friday. Group B will be doing in-person learning Wednesday and Thursdays, 8:55 a.m. to noon, while remote learning the other days of the week.
The split is to keep the number of students on campus at once as low as possible and to keep each group separate from the other. This way if a virus case does happen, only one group will be affected by the isolation protocols.
Since August, the school district has spent over 38 hours meeting with the Monroe Education Association (MEA) union discussing how a return to the classroom will happen.
According to school district spokeswoman Tamara Krache, a Memorandum of Agreement, effective for the 2020-2021 school year, signed Sept. 4 by the union states: “There are also potential stages for in-person/online hybrid models that would allow education to pivot at any time between remote, hybrid, and in-person learning. These stages will be determined by the impacts of a changing health situation, available resources, and direction from OSPI (the state Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction), our Governor, and the Snohomish County Health Department.”
The agreement calls for a reexamination on a quarterly basis to ensure the current model of learning is effective “using Snohomish County Health Department, Washington State Health Department, and other relevant state and federal guidelines to inform their decisions.”
Dr. Chris Spitters, the county’s health officer from the health district, has been in constant contact with the school district through weekly phone calls. On Oct. 20, the health district released guidance for school districts planning to transition back to in-person learning, the guidance was upheld by the health district on Nov. 10.
Monroe School District Superintendent Dr. Justin Blasko held two webinars addressing concerns and questions of Monroe families Nov. 10 and 12.
Spitters joined the Nov. 12 webinar to answer some recurring questions.
“Thus far, the community-wide increase in COVID-19 transmission has not been linked to transmission in schools, but rather has been driven by transmission in private social gatherings, where masks are not being worn,” Spitters said. “Key ingredients for transmission are an indoor setting that’s poorly ventilated, no masks and lots of talking.”
Blasko and Spitters pushed the importance of staff and faculty to abide by COVID-19 guidelines to ensure a safe return: limiting the amount of social interaction with those other than family and to screen symptoms diligently, stating if one feels sick at all to stay home.
In the webinar, Spitters also mentioned that schools are in a different lane when it comes to the state’s COVID-19 plan, meaning the 5-6 person limit does not apply to schools. He stated that when precautions are being taken like wearing a mask, screening for symptoms and social distancing, a school setting has a very low transmission rate.
“The measures at our disposal and the evidence of their effectiveness, show that it’s a different environment and that we can have kids in cohorted groups properly spaced wearing masks, learning in person,” Spitters said. “A gathering of students who have been screened, masked and distanced is of remarkably lower risk of transmission than a gathering of non-household family or friends for a meal and a conversation.”
Spitters presented a graph depicting each age group correlation with each group case numbers. Elementary school children have a lower rate of contracting the virus as well as transmission.
Between Sept. 1 and Nov. 12, there have been 44 school facilities with positive cases in the county. Of those, 36 facilities had a single case and eight facilities had two or more. One facility had nine cases, the highest amount at a facility. There has been a total of 61 cases in a school facility countywide.
Frank Wagner Elementary had one confirmed case on Nov. 9 which closed two classrooms and Fryelands Elementary had one confirmed case right when kindergarten students were reintroduced to in-person learning on Oct. 12. Kindergarten is on a four-day schedule, from 8:55 a.m. to noon. Prior to this, the students with the highest level of need: those with disabilities, homeless or those furthest away from educational justice, were brought back for in-person learning Sept. 21.
The slow re-opening plan rolled out by Monroe Schools came with an endorsement from the Health District according to Krache.
“The Monroe School District has been in regular contact with the Snohomish County Health District,” Krache said. “We have worked hard to make the best decisions we can during this moment in history to serve the students of Monroe School District as effectively as possible and we know that in-person learning is what we do best.”
The district’s re-opening plan can be read at www.tinyurl.com/MonroeReopening or at the school district’s website, www.monroe.wednet.edu
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