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Nov. 21 In-Person Learning Update

Dear Mercer Island Families and Community, 

We hear your voices, we see your passion, and we feel your frustration. We want nothing more than for our students to be in our school buildings and once again benefit from the entire school experience. I use our District’s values to guide my decisions on what is most appropriate for our students and staff in the short and long term. Nine months of isolation for our children is not what anyone expected and we know the importance of enabling in-person learning for students’ social-emotional health.

The rapid decline in community health and safety and anticipated increase in COVID-19 spread over the Thanksgiving break has led me to decide that we will not begin in-person kindergarten on the target date of December 2.

Since early October, the trends that led to previous delays of our kindergarten plans continue to head in the wrong direction. Governor Inslee announced a four-week statewide set of restrictions effective this past Monday, November 16, to help with our state’s battle against COVID-19. Though these restrictions were not directed at public schools, we also heard today that our local health system is under strain. Many districts in parts of the country that had been open in some form are now going back to remote learning. 

The decision to delay the return of kindergarten again is a complex one that is not easily made. Our community is divided about whether this group of students should return to in-person learning at this time. An important factor to consider was that many families requested the delay. I know some will applaud this decision while others will condemn it. Today, I am led to delay the return to in-person learning for our kindergarten learners to January. 

Anticipated In-person Learning Through January: 

Elementary:  

Kindergarten In-Person Return Timeline

  • Monday, January 4: Asynchronous Learning Day

  • Tuesday, January 5: Asynchronous Learning Day

  • Wednesday, January 6: First day of in-person learning

First Grade In-Person Return Timeline

  • Thursday, January 14: Asynchronous Learning Day 

  • Friday, January 15: Asynchronous Learning Day

  • Tuesday, January 19: First day of in-person learning

Second - Fifth Grade

Secondary:

The below in-person activities currently in place will continue: 

  • Highest need students being served through special education services;

  • Individuals and cohorts of highest need students at all levels throughout the District; 

  • IMS and MIHS Athletic cohorts in structured workouts outdoors.

Looking Ahead: Learning Model

All of the Learning Forward Teams are actively seeking and considering information from districts in other states so as to revise and solidify plans to return more students to in-person learning either in small groups, through extracurriculars, or via a broader hybrid learning model. The teams are revisiting the plans at each level with an eye on balancing our families’ interests that students are engaged in teacher directed learning five days a week with the desire for students to have in-person experiences. 

We will be ready with robust in-person learning plans for our secondary students when state and county health guidance permits.  

When students are in-person learning, the District and MIEA want to ensure they can still access their education when they must stay home due to illness. The parties just reached an agreement whereby such students will be able to still access class from home via live streaming. The District will be able to implement this important and beneficial addition to the District’s in-person learning model by January.  

Looking Ahead: Health & Safety Impact on Opening

The Washington state Department of Health Decision Tree has been an essential guide in our planning. The metric receiving the most attention is the “number of cases in the county per 100,000 residents.” While important, we must also monitor other factors such as the impact on hospitals/health care systems, percent of positive tests over 14 days, and whether the outbreak is shrinking or expanding. 

I learned yesterday that the Department of Health Decision Tree is under review and likely to be updated soon. It is my understanding that the changes will not drastically alter the health and safety requirements to bring students into schools. We have developed and submitted our COVID-19 Reopening Plan to Public Health and received their endorsement. I continue to collaborate with Public Health, our School Board, the PTA, each of the six schools, and educational leaders near and far to make the best decisions for our students, staff, and community. 

Finally, with case counts on the rise, the Governor’s new guidance is advising all of us that it is safer to celebrate Thanksgiving with just your immediate household this year. Making that decision is hard, but during COVID-19, saying “no” to some events can be an act of caring, especially if our loved ones are at high risk of getting very sick

Anything we can do as individuals to help reduce the rate of transmission will help us get students back in school buildings. 

Have a safe and healthy Thanksgiving Break,

Donna Colosky, Superintendent