Ellensburg High School

Ellensburg High School’s front entrance. In-classroom instruction for hybrid students at the high school started Oct. 19.

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Some teachers in the Ellensburg School District are uncomfortable with the stance the district has taken regarding opening schools to in-person education. While all teachers are happy to see their students, the rate of positive cases in the county has more than tripled since in-person education began.

Teachers agreed to in-person education when the positive case numbers for the county were at 75 cases per 100,000 people or below over a two-week period. When the district decided to move to in-person education there were 67 cases per 100,000 That number is currently at 240 per 100,000, and in-person education has continued without any signs of stopping.

The ESD Board of Directors made an amendment during its last meeting to ignore the rise in case numbers per 100,000. They said because Central Washington University students were coming back to Ellensburg, the numbers per 100,000 were no longer an accurate representation of cases in the county.

Many ESD teachers and staff spoke out in regard to this issue during the school board meeting Oct. 21.

“Are you going to wait long enough for this experiment to end in the death of a student or a staff member or are you going to take action previous to that?” Morgan Middle School teacher Jamie Moultine asked the board during public comment. “Because if you wait for Dr. Larson, that’s what it could come to. He has clearly put the ball in your court, and we need to take responsibility for that.”

ESD Teacher Association President and Morgan Middle School teacher Donna Grassel said Kittitas County Public Health Officer Dr. Mark Larson gave reasons for shutting down the school, two of which were a death of a student or staff member, or a large uptick in case numbers, which is something that has recently happened.

Grassel sent an email to the school board and Superintendent Jinger Haberer on Oct 23. This email detailed concerns she had regarding student and teacher safety during the in-person education system. One of these concerns was regarding the Virtual Academy (VA), the online learning program for students and families who didn’t want to return to school in-person. Around one-third of students in the district opted for the VA.

These families had the option to avoid in-person schedule in favor of fully online education, and the district said teachers would have the same option, those who volunteered could teach all of their classes through the Virtual Academy and avoid the risk of in-person contact.

“The number of students requiring VA and the number of teachers wishing to teach VA was not an exact match,” Grassel said in the email.

She mentioned there are teachers who wanted to teach fully online for their own safety but are being forced to teach some in-person classes. There are also teachers who want to teach classes fully in-person, who are required to teach some classes through VA.

“Many of us will no longer see our loved ones because of our exposure levels at school. It was easier in the summer and early fall when I could visit my 80-year-old mother in her backyard,” Grassel said in the email. “Now, I don’t dare go into her house or take her anywhere in my car, masked or not. Call me selfish if you wish, but I would like to see my family over the holidays.”

Some teachers spoke out against the school board during the meeting.

“You can’t bring up salaries during every single meeting and conversation and insinuate or outright say that we are overpaid for what we do, and then turn around and praise us, and say things like ‘we knew this was coming and everyone had a chance to be in Virtual Academy teacher’ when that is not true,” said EHS librarian and Virtual Academy English teacher Cathie Day.

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