by Richard Uhlhorn
The Chelan School Board met in special session Thursday, August 6, to discuss Superintendent Barry DePaoli’s recommendation to reopen the School District remotely.
The School Board approved a motion to open remotely with one member voting No.
Student in the Lake Chelan School District will start the school year remotely and won’t be allowed back in the classrooms until the COVID case counts go down and the County is allowed to move to new Phases. Full reopening for K-8th grade won’t happen until the County moves to Phase 3 and High School students will not be allowed back until the County is at Phase 4.
DePaoli told the board that the Chelan-Douglas Health District and the Governor are against opening schools to students until the COVID case counts come down. Currently, the positive case counts are at 550+ per 100,000.
“If we were not to follow the guidelines we would not get insurance coverage,” said DePaoli.
Board member Kim Thorpe asked if the state was specifically saying that the school can’t reopen. DePaoli replied that the District has to reopen remotely. “If we want to bring in students, it has to be in groups of five for each classroom,” DePaoli said. Prior to being able to bring in students, a plan has to be submitted and approved by Dr. Butler at the Health District.
Augustin Benagas asked if insurance would still cover the District if they were allowed to bring in five students per class. DePaoli replied only if Dr. Butler approves it.
Thorpe said she is concerned for the younger kids starting remotely. Her fear is that parents will be unable to support them and said, “I feel we could bring in those kids on alternating days.” She does not see remote learning for younger student as a learning environment.
DePaoli told Thorpe that it is a real challenge. “We have to follow the Health District guidelines. We will look for ways we can assist those students remotely.” He suggested that perhaps their older siblings could help out.
Thorpe wondered if 10 students couldn’t be brought in instead of five. DePaoli replied that the plan is capped at five students per class. Thorpe kept pushing and said, “The guidelines and suggestions are obviously open to some leeway.” DePaoli replied, “The leeway is that we can bring in five at a time. The decision is that we will open remotely and plan for up to five students.”
Lynda Foster weighed in on the argument and said, “We are not gathering to make a decision. The decision has already been made for us. The reality is that it is not up to us,” said Foster.
DePaoli went on to explain that the District’s teachers would not be expected to work two jobs. “We will manage classrooms (the five student classrooms) with special educators and Para Pros,” said DePaoli. “We are working out all of those details.”
For those parents of students and the teachers, DePaoli stated that there would be an identified start time and dismissal time plus intervention time for students who need it. “We have to serve those kids,” said DePaoli.
Reopening Phases will be as follows:
Phase 2 will allow children from Kindergarten to Fifth grade in school on a Hybrid s Phase 3 will bring all Kindergarten to Eighth graders back into the classroom.
Phase 4 will allow High School students to come back to school.
Those students and parents who want their children to remain remote will be given that option through BYU and APEX for consistency.
Ken Brunner asked about medical checks for students. DePaoli said each student will have his/her temperature taken and will be required to mask. Any student who can not wear a mask will be required to have a doctor’s approval to not wear a mask.
Thorpe, towards the end of the meeting asked if the entire board would be willing to challenge the Health District guidelines to reopen. Brunner replied that would create too much risk to the students. “We would become a petri dish.” Jeff Fehr also replied that the District would be operating without insurance and that wasn’t being fiscally responsible.
DePaoli added that the District has both students and staff currently infected with COVID. “We need to bring the case counts down to bring students back,” he said
Benegas also said the District and community would be in full Flu Season this fall, which he added was not a good health recipe. DePaoli added that the Health District feels that the community is three weeks away from the peak in COVID cases.
The plan is for the first three days to be a face to face orientation with parents and students so they can understand what is happening. It will also be an opportunity to introduce students to their teachers.
Rosey Burkhard is preparing some marketing materials for the community.
“This is a really hard decision. This is a global pandemic. We need to value the opinion of these health officials,” added DePaoli.
The final reopening plan will be ready for the Board by August 14 and then sent to OSPI regarding the five students per class on August 18.