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July 24 Update from Supt. Colosky recommending fully remote learning to begin the 2020-21 school year

July 24, 2020

Dear Mercer Island Schools families and community, 

This week I made the recommendation to the School Board that the Mercer Island School District begin the 2020-21 school year with a remote learning model. The health and safety of our students, staff, parents and community consistently guided our decisions in the spring and continue to do so now. Therefore, all students from our youngest preschool students through our adult transition students should be preparing for full-time remote learning. 

Public Health – Seattle & King County has informed districts this week that it supports the decisions by school districts to begin the school year with remote learning, given the significant risk of transmission of COVID-19. Over the last seven days, King County averaged 171 new COVID-19 cases per day. This is more than four times higher than the new case rate at the beginning of June. Given this, and the limited guidance districts have received related to re-opening school in the fall, it was decided to start the school year in a remote model. 

The District’s Learning Forward Reopening Schools Plan outlines four phases: Red, Orange, Yellow and Green. Each phase supports student learning regardless of how the COVID-19 pandemic is threatening the community. Our goal has been, and always will be, a safe and healthy return to in-person learning as soon as possible. Along with health and safety, we continue to prioritize the academic, social, and emotional experience of our students. Building on the lessons from this spring, we intend to deliver dynamic learning whether our students are learning remotely, learning in the classroom, or when we can safely offer a combination of the two. 

One of our priorities is our youngest learners and students who have the most significant needs and require the most acute services. To this end, we hope to have our youngest learners and some students with our most significant needs attend in-person at school with precautions in place as soon as we can safely do so. Remote learning will continue to be the primary format for student learning until we are able to bring students back to our buildings. 

Under the Red Learning Day Plan, all Mercer Island students attend school remotely, implementing a more robust program than was offered last spring. This plan will focus on daily synchronous instruction for students through Zoom which includes extended learning blocks with teachers. There is a commitment to a consistent learning management system for students with expectations and procedures clearly defined for users. Details about the systems and platforms that we will be using will be available in the coming weeks. Please see the links below to the draft Red Learning Day Plans.

Elementary Red Learning Day

Middle School Red Learning Day

High School Red Learning Day

The District will re-evaluate on a three-week cycle whether we are able to begin bringing students back to our campuses. Ongoing evaluation and consultation with local health authorities will guide our decision-making as we move through the phases. We do know that once we are able to bring students in larger groups back to our buildings that we will phase in their return starting with our youngest learners first. 

Our families whose children receive special services through special education can expect further communication from Dr. Sue Ann Bube, the MISD Director of Special Services. Dr. Bube, along with Assistant Director Beth DeGrace, lead the Inclusive Education Learning Forward team and have been diligently working with staff and parents to contemplate how to best meet the needs of students when the District is in a remote setting.

The Learning Forward Plan with details for each model and phase will be considered for formal adoption by the School Board at its Aug. 13 meeting. 

We know that there are still many details to be considered as we continue to build our reopening plan. Please join us for a community information webinar on Thursday, July 30 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Zoom to discuss details of the Red Learning Day and the rest of the Learning Forward Plan.

In addition, the School Board will hold a special  session on Aug. 6 at 5 p.m., on Zoom for a review of the full reopening plan. and a linkage with the community for opportunity for input will be on Aug. 11 at 5:00 pm. Links to board meetings are here.

Communication regarding the start of the 2020-2021 school year will continue to be shared via email, social media, Zoom webinars, and through our Fall 2020 website at mercerislandschools.org/Fall2020

Sincerely,

Donna Colosky, Superintendent