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The fact that the Ellensburg School District will start the school year under a hybrid model that splits the student population up in a mix of two-days classroom instruction and three days of online instruction is not a surprise given the ongoing struggles to manage the COVID-19 pandemic.

What’s also not surprising was that when surveyed on options, parents preferred having students in the classroom five days a week.

The response likely was spurred by the fact that this spring’s 11 weeks of online instruction did not go well for many students and families.

Where the district may have erred was in presenting a full return to the classroom option if that was never a feasible choice. Based on the comments made by School Board members the full classroom option was not going to meet health and safety standards.

The district could be further critiqued for not going further outside the box in creating a five-day option that featured split populations between morning and afternoon shifts, perhaps altering school hours and the start date for school.

There definitely is no perfect solution for operating a K-12 public school system during a pandemic, and for parents and students the focus now has to shift of making the best of the situation.

One of the main problems with online instruction in the spring was the lack of structure. That was understandable given the district had two weeks to shift from classroom instruction to remote/online.

Two days in the classroom should help the students and teachers connect and allow teachers to respond and reach out to students who may struggle with the online instruction.

That leaves three days, and those three days are going to vary dramatically from student to student. The question becomes how does the district compensate for not having control over the instructional setting during those three days?

This past spring there likely were more parents at home, either laid off/furloughed or working from home. More parents likely will be back in the workplace this fall. Also, parents at the K-5 level are going to have a much different set of issues to resolve than those with kids in grades 6-12. In a normal world, if you are working and your young child does not have school that day, you arrange for child care, including taking the child to a child care facility.

Under the school-at-home system, parents probably will look for someone to come to their home and that person becomes a child care/home school monitor. It creates a whole new job classification.

The district must be up front with parents about school heading forward. What needs to be different at the end of fall quarter for students to return full time to the classroom? Most health experts expect the situation to worsen in the late fall/winter with the presence of COVID-19 along with the annual flu surge.

Knowing the criteria that needs to be met may provide the incentive needed for people to comply with health safety standards such as wearing a mask in public settings and maintaining social distancing. Without comprehensive compliance leading to enhanced management of the spread of COVID-19, the most likely scenario is school returns to normal when there’s a vaccine, and that’s an undefined time table.

Heading forward the district will need to clearly define what the two days in the classroom will look like, and well as what will be expected during the three days at home.

Ellensburg students make use of district-provided Chromebooks, which work fine to augment instruction. There are more issues when the Chromebook is the primary source for curriculum delivery. Not all students have access to an additional home computer. This system emphasizes inequalities that already exist across the student population. One of the strengths of public education is everything is equal inside the classroom. The less time in the classroom and the more time in homes, the greater role inequalities play in educational outcomes.

Some standardized testing was waived in the spring. Will the district modified its academic goals this fall as well? How long can expectations be lowered before it has severe consequences for the student’s long-term academic potential?

The calendar says summer break, but these next two months need to be a time of cooperative effort and communication between district staff, teachers, students and parents to make sure each child can have a successful fall.


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