Issaquah plans to bring back some in-person learning

Kindergarten and first grade could return for some in-person learning by Oct. 15

Issaquah School District has set a reopening date for some in-person classes, one of the first in the county to do so. However, there’s still a complicated process ahead for the district as it chooses to reopen it’s doors.

In a letter to families and staff on Sept. 17, Superintendent Ron Thiele stated that starting Sept. 28, a portion of students with special needs and preschool will resume in-person classes. The district has also set a goal of in-person classes for kindergarten and first grade by Oct. 15.

“Thank you again for your grace, patience and kindness as we adjust our education system to support student learning during this worldwide pandemic,” Thiele told families in the letter.

Thiele cites the drop in cases over the past two weeks, moving King County to the moderate spread level category, defined by the state Department of Health (DOH), as the move to look at hybrid instruction plans.

But in order to reopen, the district will need to confirm the number of students returning to in-person learning and the number of staff available for the in-person model. The district will also need to practice COVID-19 safety measures including: facial coverings, physical distancing, temperature checks, proof of health, contact tracing and increased handwashing and property sanitation.

Once those measures are in place, the district stated in the letter that reopening will look something like this:

  • Starting the week of September 28, the district will bring back a portion of students with special needs for in-person instruction, including students in ECE, LRCII, and ACT programs. ECEAP preschool students will also return at the same time.
  • In-person learning for kindergarten and first grade students is expected to start no later than Oct. 15. “These students have been prioritized because of their young age and their need to acquire foundational skills, and learn how to be successful independent learners,” the district stated.
  • After these deadlines, the phasing-in, or return, of each grade band will most likely occur in intervals of three weeks between each group, according to the district. The district states this allows them to measure and observe the impact in-person learning may have on COVID-19 activity in the area, prior to bringing in additional groups of students.
  • In considering the return of our middle and high school students, DOH Decision Tree guidance suggests the rate of COVID-19 should be below 25 cases per 100,000 before returning to in-person instruction.

The school district also reported in the Sept. 17 letter that the remote learning system wasn’t working best for all Issaquah families but had an overall positive launch.

Thiele said a remote option will continue to remain available for families who wish for it, however, the Issaquah Education Association union expressed concerns that the return to in-person learning will be abrupt on the teachers.

IEA President Derona Burkholder said educators remain concerned about safety, and that a lot of questions still need to be answered about bringing back in person teaching. Burkholder said that despite these concerns, nobody wants to be back to in-person classes as much as educators do.

“We need the district to sit down with us and develop a clear plan for how we’re going to stay safe. This lift for in-person with over 3,000 kindergarten and first grade students is a heavy lift and it takes time,” Burkholder said. “We need to do this right, so that we only have to do it once and don’t face COVID breakouts that could force us back into distance learning.”

The IEA has its first bargaining session Sept. 30, making that Oct. 15 reopen date an aggressive timeline to create an agreement, vote and implement the changes for in-person. This could bring stress to students, families and most of all staff, Burkholder said.

Burkholder also told KIRO 7 that their inbox was flooded with emails from educators taken surprise by the announcement, as many just just committed to full-time remote teaching, and that the district is not ready to be setting the precedent for return to in person classes for the rest of the region.

Nearby districts have also set a plan for hybrid learning, but no set starting date. The district states more information will be sent out as it gets closer to the return dates.

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