PORT ORCHARD — South Kitsap School District’s plan to bring students back into the classrooms will first return kindergarteners and first graders to school buildings beginning Nov. 9, Superintendent Tim Winter announced at the district’s virtual school board meeting on Oct. 7.
The district’s plan, called “Return to Campus Roadmap,” a document that included a top-to-bottom calendar rundown of milestones next to dates this fall and winter, was presented to those watching the proceedings on the internet.
Winter told the board that the district has been in close communication with Kitsap Public Health District, the state Department of Health, the State Office of Public Instruction and SKSD’s administrative team in drawing up its SK Flex schedule.
Winter said the mix of inputs has been critical in determining what dates could be identified to begin the process of returning students to school.
“All of this really depends on the health of our community,” he said. “The transmission rate over 14 days was 29 two weeks ago. Last week it was 39. The read right now is close to 60 as we report tomorrow [Oct. 8]. This is an upward trend. We’re getting double-digit cases per day.”
The superintendent said the district is following guidance from county and state agencies on how to proceed with a return to class. He said officials have recommended starting the process with a small group of the youngest students.
“I think that’s really an important age to get a good foundation of education,” Winter said.
On Monday, SKSD has targeted for the early return of identified special education students to the classroom. That return was delayed by uncertainty over state Department of Labor & Industries requirements for personal protective equipment and masks that district staff would need to wear and have available for when they engage with students, Andy Rogers, SKSD’s special education director, told the board.
When students from the two grade levels return on Nov. 9, half of those students (last names starting with the letter A-K) will attend classes in the morning, the other half (L-Z) in the afternoon. The students will be at school four days a week, according to the plan announced by district officials.
The plan then calls for second and third graders to head back to class on Nov. 23, followed by fourth and fifth graders on Dec. 7. They also will attend split shifts in the morning and afternoons. Sixth graders will transition to the middle school model after returning to class.
South Kitsap students who attend sixth grade and higher grades will have full-day schedules on campus twice a week, followed by a return to distance learning three days each week.
On Jan. 5, seventh and eighth graders are tentatively set to return to campus. They will return to school buildings on an abbreviated schedule following the winter break, Winter told the board.
The new SK Flex plan culminates with a Feb. 8 tentative return for high schoolers who will follow the two days on-campus/three days remote-learning model. He cautioned that the district’s “roadmap” plan could change depending on COVID-19 statistics collected by Kitsap County.
“Things change on a daily basis,” Winter said of the impacts from the pandemic, which have necessitated adjustments to the plan. “Since this plan was shown to the board, another change is being made this afternoon.”
Early next year, South Kitsap’s plan will allow parents to choose whether their children will follow the “SK Flex” option or take their educational instruction entirely via distance learning.
Winter said district staff members have been talking with parents and teaching staff about which students will choose to start back with the SK Flex program and which ones will continue learning remotely. He said those discussions are also taking place with teaching staff to determine how to meet scheduling needs.
The return-to-class document also includes a detailed list of staff and student safety protocols and procedures that include thorough handwashing and mask-wearing at all times on campus and on buses. Daily wellness checks also will be required of staff and students.
The document indicates that physical distancing will be required in class and on campus with assigned seating in each classroom. Similar adjustments are being made for student seating aboard buses to and from school.
“There’s been a huge challenge that has been met,” the superintendent said. “We are all feeling this challenge and we’re all feeling the pressure, but I think we’ve done a really nice job of meeting that challenge and meeting needs.
“Each day is really tough. I’m impressed at how hard people are working. And parents are having to work hard.”