BI schools delay in-person learning until November

COVID-19 cases continue to decline in Kitsap County, and the Bainbridge Island School District is ramping up talks about younger students returning for some in-person learning.

It won’t happen this month, but if the data trends remain positive, kindergarten and first grade hybrid model students could be back on campus in early November.

At the Sept. 24 BISD school board meeting, superintendent Peter Bang-Knudsen said the district would continue to monitor the data for any post-holiday spikes.

At the time of the meeting, the COVID rate over the previous 14 days was 29 per 100,000, which nearly drops the county from the moderate range to low. Department of Health guidelines allow individual districts to consider bringing students back to the classroom in both of those ranges.

“We’re still waiting to make sure that we’re kind of passed that Labor Day anticipated flare up,” Bang-Knudsen said. “We still probably have another week to make sure we’re past that, but we’re headed in a good direction in Kitsap County.”

Bang-Knudsen said that as the administrative team collaborated on having students return, they discovered there were a few items they wanted to spend more time on before giving the go-ahead. Examples are preparing to properly cohort groups of students, getting them transportation, finalizing daily schedules and transition times, and making sure the students’ second half of the day, during which they are remote, is still covered.

“This is one of the logistics that we realized we wanted to spend a little bit more time on to make sure that we were able to get it right,” Bang-Knudsen said.

There are some other details that still need attention — stockpiling cleaning supplies and coming up with very specific cleaning protocols; putting together a monitoring plan, which includes daily check-ins with students and staff as they enter the building; having substitute teachers on stand-by in case of a staff member’s illness; and how best to go about the handling of classroom materials.

BISD will also put into place protocols for the eventuality of a positive case. That way the district would already have information to hand over to contact tracers at the Kitsap Public Health District about that person’s close contacts. The classroom and any other room that person spent time in would be thoroughly cleaned, and the district would have correspondence for students and parents at the ready, including notifying anyone whomay have been a close contact of the person who tested positive.

“This is really complex work,” Bang-Knudsen said.

Once the district is “cleared for takeoff,” it will plan a phased-in approach to bringing back students. The first group coming back is kindergarten and first grade, followed by grades two through four, grades five and six, grades seven and eight, and then high school students.

Bang-Knudsen said he was “cautious” about putting out an exact return date, but the first week of November is a possibility.

“Now we know that we’re going to need a few more weeks to get us prepared for that, but I think November 2 is an optimistic and realistic guidepost for us to set,” Bang-Knudsen said.

The district has also received some more good news regarding in-person learning. Bang-Knudsen said the city of Bainbridge Island has researched the possibility of funding community-based testing, which they believe can be in place by Nov. 2 and would have a fast turnaround time for COVID tests.

The City Council has not voted on it yet — they are expected to Oct. 12 — and the plan would be to create a site in Winslow, somewhere near city hall, where a person can make an appointment and quickly have the test results sent to the University of Washington lab, which has a return rate of 98 percent of tests within 12 to 24 hours.

A student or staff member who needs to be tested would know quickly if they have COVID-19 or if they can safely return to the classroom.

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