The following message from Superintendent Patrick Murphy was emailed to all staff and families today:
Thurston County Public Health and Social Services announced today that based on current levels of COVID-19 in our community, it does not recommend school districts open for in-person learning this September. As a result, we will begin school on September 9 in a full-time distance learning model.
I, like all of you, had been urgently hoping to have our students and staff back in our schools safely this fall, so this message, while maybe not unexpected, is difficult to deliver. And, at the same time, it is likely a relief to many, especially given the rising transmission rates of the COVID-19 virus in our region and across the state. Our staff miss their students dearly and long to be with them in person again, and we know our students miss their teachers and wish to see their classmates on campus.
In a letter sent today to Thurston County school district superintendents, Thurston County Health Officer Dr. Dimyana Abdelmalek wrote in part, “In order to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19 within my jurisdiction, at this time I strongly urge and recommend all K-12 schools to remain closed to in-person general instruction for the 2020 Fall term and for districts to utilize distance learning modalities.”
As of July 1, the Health Officer shared that Thurston County had 273 confirmed cases. As of yesterday, July 29, the cumulative number of confirmed cases is 628 with a rate of 60.5 new cases per 100,000 people in our county over the past two weeks, or more than 100 cases per week. This rate of increase is significantly higher than the <25 cases per 100,000 people over two weeks which is the state target for Phase 3 counties. Dr. Abdelmalek continued, “At this time, I do not believe we can open schools for in-person learning safely.”
We cannot predict how long students will remain in full-time distance learning. This will depend on infection rates, and we will continue to rely on guidance from health and education officials to advise us when it is safe to reopen schools. When we do reopen, it will almost assuredly be in a hybrid model — a combination of in-person and distance learning. We have been planning for and preparing our schools for a hybrid model the past several months, so we will be prepared for that.
We have learned from your feedback and our experience last spring, and are developing an improved distance learning program for all of our schools that includes more structure, including schedules and more daily live interaction online. Our plan includes:
- Learning experiences that are both synchronous (all students learning at the same time) and asynchronous (students learning without real-time interaction based on direction from their teachers).
- Extensive staff training planned before school starts that includes best distance learning practices, equity, and social-emotional wellness.
- A digital device for every student at all grade levels.
- Technology training for families.
We will offer three different distance learning options so that families can choose the one that best meets their needs: Distance learning connected to their home school, i-Connect online academy, and h-Connect homeschool cooperative.
More details about our plan will be included in the report to the school board on August 3. The online Zoom meeting starts at 6:30 p.m., and meeting details and links are posted on our school district website.
While we had hoped to greet your student in person this fall, we are committed to creating the most welcoming environment and highest-quality learning experiences possible. Our work, as always, is grounded in our Student Outcomes.
Thank you for your patience, perseverance, and participation in our planning efforts. In the coming weeks we will be providing more specifics about what students and families can expect in the full-time distance learning environment. We look forward to welcoming our students to a new school year in September.