With Kitsap County beginning to see a downtrend in COVID-19 activity, the Bainbridge Island school board discussed the possibility of beginning a hybrid program as soon as Oct. 12.
There are plenty of caveats to such a plan — the disease data must continue to stay low, the Kitsap Public Health District must support the decision and the district has to have all of its safety protocols in place. Of course a decision could be reversed in an instant if a wave of outbreaks occurred.
The public health district’s report card, last updated Sept. 10, shows Kitsap County has had 39.7 cases per 100,000 residents over the previous 14 days, which is still above the recommended less than 25 cases per 100,000 to move forward in the state’s Safe Start plan. But it represents an improvement over July and August, when cases spiked.
Like the rest of Kitsap County, BISD initially was not going to reopen to students for the first nine weeks, but that was based on health department projections that said virus activity would continue to worsen in September, superintendent Peter Bang-Knudsen said.
A Labor Day spike is still possible as data tends to lag behind by a week or two. Bang-Knudsen said the district should have a better idea by the board’s meeting Sept. 24 whether or not moving to the hybrid model is a possibility.
“If we stay steady or continue to decline, that bodes well for our ability to start the reopening process,” Bang-Knudsen said.
If cases remain in the moderate range (25 to 75 per 100,000) and the rest of KPHD’s decision tree considerations can be met, the tentative plan is to bring back the district’s youngest children, kindergarten through fourth grade, as early as Oct. 12. It could be done possibly by grade bands — for example, perhaps starting with kindergarten and first grade, then expanding to second through fourth.
The youngest students are the easiest to cohort, and studies have shown that children do not seem to be major transmitters of COVID.
“There are still some very tangible benefits to in-person learning that are just very, very difficult to replicate via distance learning, especially for younger students,” Bang-Knudsen said.
If the first few weeks are successful, fifth and sixth grades could return for hybrid learning sometime in early November. The district may hold off on bringing back high school students, and perhaps seventh and eighth grades as well, until second semester.
“The way that students take classes, especially at the high school level, they’re really semseter-based,” Bang-Knudsen said. “So we would really want to kind of finish off a semester and then build and transition kids into a hybrid model potentially.”
Board member Mark Emerson asked if changing from fully online would cause problems or concerns for parents who either might not want to send their kids back for in-person learning so soon, or made plans under the assumption that their children would be home until November. He also asked if teachers had been consulted.
“I just want to know that we’re thinking about all those different variables and our messaging to the community,” Emerson said.
Bang-Knudsen said the district will make sure to work with parents and keep in communication as new information comes in, and they are looking to make sure the staff is both able to stay safe and be successful in their roles.
“We’re going to continue to make plans,” Bang-Knudsen said, “but we’re also going to have to continue to be responsive as new information and new data comes forth.”