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The decision last week by the Ellensburg School Board to return students to the classroom under the hybrid model on Oct. 5 was met by a good deal of excitement in households across to the district but also with questions and concerns.

Regardless of your viewpoint on COVID-19 and restrictions put in place, since mid-March the public education has not been normal.

First of all there was the short-term of completely disrupting the last months of graduating seniors, but longer term there was what was happening to students at all the grade levels and what did it mean for either building foundational skills or focusing on pathways to colleges and/or vocational training.

The fact is there was no book on the shelf titled, “Open in case of pandemic: What to do when you can’t do what you normally do.”

Perhaps we should have had that contingency thought out and going forward the definition of emergency planning may be more expansive, but as it worked out we’ve all had to adjust on the fly.

Hybrid — two days in the classroom and three days online — is yet another twist. Last year ended with three months online and this year started online for Ellensburg. There has been a lot of work by teachers, staff, students and parents to make it work.

The question now is to somehow meld the two systems — in class and online — in such a way that the in-class instruction can make up for some of the deficiencies students experience in the online instruction.

Mastering online instruction remains critical probably for the entirety of the 2020-21 school year. There might be a best-case scenario where school is fully in classroom by the spring but it would irresponsible to assume that will happen. Teachers, students and parents need to have the mindset of making the best possible situation out of the online, in-class mix.

Not all students are returning to the classroom — about 1,200 students (roughly a third of district) opted for the Virtual Academy. Those parents and students committed to the first semester in the Virtual Academy. How many students decide to switch to hybrid for second semester will impact how the student load is managed in the buildings and how staffing is structured.

The school board’s decision gave all the buildings a week and a half to prepare for the return of students. The district had been planning to start the year with the hybrid model prior to a rise in COVID-19 concerns so it has been thought out. But a week and a half to implement those plans is quick.

There will be protocols to follow in terms of wearing masks, hand washing and distancing. The kids will probably do pretty well, but it is likely there will be COVID-19 cases associated with the return to the classroom.

The biggest question, particularly for parents, is how will the district respond. The guideline for returning to the classroom is a COVID-19 rate of under 75 per 100,000 over the past two weeks. The county’s two-week rate as of Tuesday morning was 103 per 100,000.

If the rate stays over 75 per 100,000 for a day or a week, will the district require students to stay home? Is there going to be a some leeway to see if it stays above for a week or two? For families who plan around jobs, school and life responsibilities it is nice to have some degree of certainty.

It is safe to say most of the students are excited to return to the classroom and see their friends and teachers and parents are excited to have even some slice of normalcy returned to the education system.

But also is probably safe to say that no one is feels secure or certain about what is to come. The challenging times of 2020 just keep coming.

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