In less than two weeks, Snoqualmie Valley School District (SVSD) students will be headed back into the classroom for full-time in-person learning.
This is the first time SVSD students will go back to full-time in-person learning since the pandemic began. The district finished last school year with part-time in-person learning.
With school starting Aug. 31 for students in grades one through 12, here is what to expect when students return.
Masking and social distancing
Per the Governor’s Office and Department of Health’s order, all students and staff will be required to wear a mask at all times while inside. Masks are not required while outside.
An exception is made for adults, who are not required to wear a mask while in their office with no students present. The district said it will require staff to wear masks while in common areas at work, even if students are not present.
Lance Gibbon, superintendent of the district, said the district will follow the guidance from the American Medical Association, the Governor’s Office and OSPI on masking. He also emphasized that current mask mandates could change.
Students in performing arts classes will be provided with three-layered medical masks each class period and will remain at least 3 feet apart when possible. Students who play wind or brass instruments will be provided bell covers for their instruments.
Social distancing is possibly the biggest change of COVID-19 protocol from last year. Schools are required to keep students at least 3 feet apart, but an exception can be made if there is not enough space.
“We spent a lot of time [last year] measuring out 6 foot distances,” Gibbon said at the Aug. 10 school board meeting. “Now the guidance says 3 feet or do the best you can.”
Gibbon said the Department of Health gave specific guidance that a lack of ability to physically distance students should not prevent the district from offering full-time in-person learning. He also said distancing could vary slightly between schools.
Students are still expected to sit spaced out while at lunch. Gibbon said this may require some creativity, including utilizing other spaces or having extra lunch periods.
“It’s a big change from last year,” he said.
On Aug. 18, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that he would require the COVID-19 vaccine for all staff in public, private and charter schools. The new rule applies to teachers, staff, coaches, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and volunteers. It does not include students.
“Due to the highly contagious Delta variant, students losing precious time learning in-person with their educators and peers because of quarantine or, potentially, school building closures is a real threat,” said Chris Reykdal, superintendent of Washington schools, in an Aug. 12 letter. “Especially after a year and a half of remote and hybrid learning, a continuity of in-person instruction will be more important this year than ever.”
School staff who are unvaccinated need to receive the vaccine by Oct. 18 as a condition of their employment.
The school district is also encouraging students who are eligible to get vaccinated in order to reduce the potential risk of missed class time.
Vaccinated individuals are not required to quarantine if they come in close contact with a case of COVID-19, assuming they are asymptomatic. Unvaccinated individuals are still required to quarantine 14 days if they are in close contact.
Prior to Inslee’s announcement, Carolyn Malcolm, a spokesperson for the SVSD, said the district was not requiring the vaccine for its staff, but were monitoring the situation and would comply with mandates from the governor or Department of Health. Malcolm said the district is currently in the process of verifying vaccination status of its staff. The district is also allowing parents to voluntarily report the vaccination status of their children.
Sherry Jennings, a spokesperson for the Snoqualmie Valley Hospital, previously told the Valley Record that North Bend teenagers, those ages 12-18, were one of the three demographic priorities hospital staff and the county health department had identified in an effort to increase overall vaccination rates.
Vaccination rates among those ages 12-19 in both North Bend and Fall City are below 60%. Snoqualmie has a rate of 95%.
The district has joined the Return to Learn Program, which is providing them with a self-given COVID-19 antigen test for students and staff. The tests will be available at all SVSD schools.
“Anytime anyone has the sniffles, we can get the test right away,” Gibbon said.
Gibbon said the district plans to offer staff a weekly opportunity to get tested, but will not required it. He said the staff is still working on a detailed plan for what happens if a student or teacher tests positive.
Bus driver shortage
The school district announced via its website that it will have a bus driver shortage for this upcoming school year.
This summer, the district hired nine new drivers, but will need at least eight more to fully service all routes in the district. If new drivers are hired by the district, the drivers will require eight weeks of training prior to picking up routes.
Due to the shortage, middle and high school students could go every fourth week without bus service. The district said this approach equitably distributes the burden, rather than having to cancel routes altogether. The district expects all buses to be at or near capacity.
“We are in the process of training drivers, but we are short,” Gibbon said. “We’re hoping to persuade as many parents as possible to carpool.”
The district announced on Aug. 19 that based upon its RSVP Survey of returning students, the district currently does not have enough parents willing to drive and is considering canceling several routes at the secondary level.
To mitigate some of the problem, parking at Mount Si High School will be free this year. The district is also encouraging high school students to drive themselves.
If you are interested in applying for a bus driver position, visit svsd410.org/Page/97.
Online schooling option
The district is offering 100% remote, online schooling through the STRIDE program this school year for all students.
Previously, the district had an online option for students from kindergarten to tenth grade. The current program extends to everyone.
Gibbon said the district has heard from between 30 and 40 families that are interested in the program, and an additional 10 or 12 that might be interested.
If students use the STRIDE program, they will be taught by STRIDE teachers, not SVSD teachers. Malcolm said this is because SVSD teachers are not trained on the program. Students who use the STRIDE program will have access to a 24/7 academic support chat.
Malcolm also said the curriculum on STRIDE is equal to what will be taught in-person.