School Board holds back on reopening the high school

by Richard Uhlhorn

It was obvious from the reports from both Brad Wilson, high school principal and Brian Wood, middle school principal, that remote learning is not cutting the educational needs at Lake Chelan School District. “The sense of hope and motivation is declining as time goes by,” Wilson told the School Board.

His message was that students are struggling and that as of November 6, 117 students have multiple ‘F’s. This number is 2 to 3 times the number of students failing when students are an in-building learning environment. According to Wilson there are approximately 40 students in the same situation when school is in session.

Seventy six percent of those failing are Latino and 74 percent are chronically truant. “It’s a real concern,” stated Wilson.

Wood echoed Wilson and stated that unexcused absences are much higher than excused absences as follows:

            6th Grade – 842 excused, 1127 unexcused

            7th Grade – 607 excused, 742 unexcused

            8th Grade – 306 excused, 510 unexcused

“The 8th grade is attending very, very well,” said Wood. However, he pointed out that as of November 6, 215 eighth grade students are failing. “Two to three fold are failing in more than three classes,” he said. “Students are attending classes, but not turning in assignments.”

Superintendent Barry DePaoli reported that corona virus cases are currently increasing in Chelan and Chelan Falls. “The trends are the same as the County,” he said. “We’ve had three positive cases, but not with students.” The High School has had two positive cases reported. However, there has been zero transmission on school sites.

This chart was shared with the school board and depicts how many positive cases the District has had since allowing elementary, middle and high school students back into the building.

“Overall, we can feel very good about not acquiring the virus,” said DePaoli. The big question before the board and staff then became whether or not High School students should be brought back when positive cases are increasing.

The original plan was to bring back the 7th and 8th graders on November 30, but that has changed to December 7 because it was felt that it wouldn’t be a good time to bring the students back right after the holiday when the chances of virus transmission would be at its greatest. DePaoli also remarked that the Health District does not support bringing back high school students before the New Year because these students can’t be coharted.

Currently there are 517 students attending at MOE. “Younger students have been at a much lower risk of transmission and are less susceptible for infection,” stated DePaoli.

Chairman Jeff Fehr asked if it would be possible to at least bring the 9th graders back? Wilson said it was possible because they have the most common classes. Board member Kim Thorpe stated that kids need to be back in the buildings. “Schools are the safest place they can be. They aren’t social distancing at home… they are safer at school,” she added.

DePaoli asked the board to make a decision to bring the high school back in January or wait until the next semester. “Students are really struggling and the last thing I want to see are kids struggling, but I worry about keeping the staff and students safe and healthy.”

“There is no easy answer,” stated DePaoli. “Most districts in Washington are not back in school.”

Thorpe argued that the District doesn’t need the Health District’s approval now that the County is in Phase II, but DePaoli said, that while that was true, it was a mixed bag. Thorpe added, “Give them some hope. Let them come back on December 7… 7th through 12th grade.”

Board member Agustin Benegas recommended that the District wait until January to bring the High School back. “There is not a lot of productive time around the holidays anyway,” he said. He added that no matter what the board decides, there would be parents on both sides of the issue. “We don’t control the virus. Kids are out and about everywhere.”

DePaoli replied that we are in a global pandemic and that there is so much uncertainty around the virus.

The board’s decision was to bring the 7th and 8th graders back in a hybrid mode on December 7 and then potentially bring the high school back on January 4.

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