OMAK – Students in the Omak School District will start the 2020-21 school year with online classes.
Superintendent Michael Porter cited Okanogan County’s high incidence rate of COVID-19 as a major factor in the decision.
In an Aug. 5 letter to parents, staff, students and the community, Porter noted the county’s rate of more than 600 positive cases in a two-week period, “which is far above the number of new cases necessary to safely open our Omak school buildings.”
As of Friday, Aug. 7, using data through Aug. 6, the county had a two-week incidence rate of 662.3 per 100,000 population, with 283 cases reported in the previous 14 days, according to Okanogan County Health District figures. A dozen new cases were reported Aug. 6 for a total of 838 positive cases, including nine deaths.
District officials consulted with the health district, health officer Dr. Malcom Butler, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal, Gov. Jay Inslee and a 55-member district advisory committee to come up with a reopening plan, Porter said.
Under guidelines announced last week by Inslee, if there are more than 75 new cases per 100,000 residents over a two-week period, schools should not open for face-to-face learning. If a county has an incidence rate of 25-75 per 100,000 residents, a hybrid model can be used and if there are fewer than 25 cases, in-person instruction can take place as long as precautions – face masks and six-foot physical distancing – are in place.
“As our new cases drop, and we receive Department of Health approval, we will reintroduce small cohorts of students, starting with our elementary and high-risk students,” including special education, English language learners and those with Internet, Porter said. “Our hope is to continue to add new cohorts every few weeks, as we see progress in the reduction of new cases and maintain health and safety in our schools.”
He said there are still some unknowns, and more information will come during the next few weeks “as we work through the challenges that we will experience during the 2020-21 school year.”
Porter said kindergarten through second grade students will have iPads checked out to them, while students in third through 12th grades will get Chromebooks.
Attendance will be taken and grades earned.
“Students will be expected to attend each class and will be held accountable for their learning,” he said.
Each day will have set schedules and lessons. Teachers will have a set workday schedule for being online from their classrooms.
“Students will be expected to log in to their classes on time and participate in the schoolwork that will be available to them each week,” said Porter.
School will start Sept. 3-4 with parent-teacher conferences at which tablets or computers can be picked up and parents can learn about schedules, curricula and expectations.
Several dozen parents weighed in on social media, with some expressing concern about working during school hours and being unable to help their children to others offering support.
Some said last spring’s remote learning was a nightmare and suggested teachers record their lessons so they could be viewed after the parent gets home from work. Others said they were contemplating home schooling or the district’s online WAVA program through K12 Inc.
“I imagine that this is not an easy decision by any means,” wrote Kaitlin Dibble. “You can’t fit everyone’s lifestyle, but it seems as though the school district is doing their best. With the way cases are here right now, this is a great plan. Thank you to those who have worked hard to come up with a plan.”
Former school board member Marjorie Thompson, also a former teacher, said the decision was made to keep students safe.
“I know this decision was very difficult,” she wrote. “I also understand this decision has added greater stress for parents and teachers. Teachers need to be in their classrooms with their students. Parents need to be able to work away from home.”
She said online classes will be difficult for teachers, too.
“Let’s all do our part toward lowering the number of Omak’s new virus cases,” she wrote.
Porter said people without Internet access are asked to contact the district office, 509-826-0320, to learn about support plans.
“This is not how any of us want to start our school year,” Porter said. “But by pulling together as a community, wearing our face masks to protect ourselves and our neighbors, and practicing social distancing, we can continue to bring the number of new cases down to allow our beloved Omak School District to reopen and welcome our students back to a safe and healthy environment.”