Most Kitsap schools won’t open in fall; distance learning instead

Decision was made based off guidance from the Kitsap Public Health District

After much discussion surrounding how to safely start the school year, most districts in Kitsap County announced last week they would be starting with full remote learning as the COVID-19 rate continues to rise locally.

The North Kitsap, Central Kitsap and Bremerton school districts announced plans for students not to go to school, but to instead learn from home through the first nine weeks. The districts will reassess the decision on in-person learning in November.

The decision for all three school districts was made after the Kitsap Public Health District sent a letter to the respective districts advising against opening schools for in-person learning, citing the county’s COVID-19 transmission currently being at its highest level since the disease arrived in Kitsap. Statistics show 56.2 cases per 100,000 population reported over the two-week period ending July 18.

“Based on the COVID-19 disease activity in Kitsap County and our region, we do not feel it is safe to open schools for traditional classroom learning in August or September,” the KPHD letter reads. “The Kitsap Public Health District and Kitsap Public Health officer support Kitsap’s school district plans to provide online educational services as the 2020-21 school year begins, in order to protect the health of students, staff, family members and our broader community.”

In a letter to families, all three districts pointed out that the distance learning model for the fall will be much more effective than the one implemented toward the end of the 2020 school year.

“The distance learning model we will roll out in September will not be (the) same remote learning model you experienced in the spring,” wrote Laurynn Evans, superintendent of North Kitsap School District. “It will be much more robust, structured, and consistent. We also recognize that distance learning presents challenges in providing support services to some students. We are evaluating the extent to which we can safely provide additional support services to students who need them.”

A statement from the CKSD website says its remote procedures also are improved.

“We are determined to return to in-person instruction as soon as it’s safely possible,” it says. “In the meantime, I want to clarify that this fall’s remote learning model is not the same model we experienced last spring. We have developed an improved, more robust remote learning experience that will have increased expectations for student participation, more consistency for delivery of content, and better feedback to students and families.”

Bremerton School District superintendent Aaron Leavell added: “Please know – this Continuous Learning 2.0 remote model will not be the same online learning you experienced this spring.”

As many school districts can attest to, the technology implementations for the curriculum was a challenge when schools initially shut down back in March. With the primary focus being single platform navigation and implementing the best possible practices through remote learning, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction stated its commitment to spending a portion of federal emergency funds on professional development for educators on the use of learning management systems.

Last week, the state Office of Financial Management released $2.5 million in federal funds to OSPI for the purpose of learning management systems training. In partnership with OSPI, the state’s nine regional educational service district (ESD’s) will provide support and training with no registration cost. According to an OSPI news release, these will guide districts with platform selection, provide training for educators and families, and will launch networks for educators to share best practices.

“Last spring, we heard consistently from educators that they needed more training on how to effectively use online learning management systems,” state schools chief Chris Reykdal said. “We also heard from students, parents, and guardians that they were overwhelmed by the variety of systems educators were using to provide online learning.”

“To make online learning more effective this fall, we have to streamline this,” Reykdal continued. “Students and parents should be able to focus on learning, and educators should be focused on teaching, without the modality of the instruction getting in the way. Our ESDs will provide educators with training in a handful of learning management systems consistent with guidance we have already sent to districts to simplify their remote learning managements systems for families.”

As OFM ponders releasing the remainder of the state’s portion of the funds, OSPI intends to cover the costs of internet for students eligible for free or reduced-price meals, as well as partnering with community-based organizations to help families secure childcare, engage in language translation services, along with other parent and family engagement strategies, the release states.

“The funds provided by Congress for state education agencies were intended for statewide coordination, statewide strategies, and statewide scale in purchasing and training,” Reykdal said. “I encourage OFM and the Legislature to release the remainder of the funds so we are able to provide additional and necessary supports for students, families, and schools as we prepare for perhaps the most complicated school year in American history.”