K5 and first-graders can re­turn to in-person school

The News Tribune - - Local - BY AL­LI­SON NEE­DLES anee­dles@the­new­stri­bune.com Al­li­son Nee­dles: 253-597-8507, @al­lison­nee­dles

Ta­coma Pub­lic Schools in­creased the num­ber of face-to-face learn­ing days for students in kinder­garten and first grade re­turn­ing to school this fall amid the COVID-19 pan­demic.

Students in kinder­garten and first grade will have the op­tion to re­turn to school four days a week for in-person in­struc­tion, with one day of dis­tance learn­ing, in­stead of a pre­vi­ous plan of 2-3 in­per­son class days a week.

Sec­ond-graders might also be able to have in­per­son in­struc­tion four days a week, if space al­lows. The dis­trict is still work­ing on a preschool model.

The up­date was made be­cause re­search shows younger students are more vul­ner­a­ble than older students when it comes to on­line learn­ing, dis­trict staff said.

“That’s some­thing that we heard from our fam­i­lies as well — our youngest students need more face-to-face time,” deputy su­per­in­ten­dent Josh Gar­cia said at a board meet­ing Thurs­day. “Vir­tual is harder for them, just with a dig­i­tal de­vice and their vul­ner­a­bil­ity when they’re not in school.”

All other grades — 3-5, mid­dle school and high school students — can choose be­tween an al­lon­line op­tion or a hy­brid op­tion con­sist­ing of two days of in-person in­struc­tion and three days of dis­tance learn­ing.

Self-con­tained class­rooms, such as some spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams that are al­ready in a co­hort, may be able to be on cam­pus more, dis­trict staff added.

A sur­vey con­ducted by the dis­trict shows that of 9,000 re­spon­dents, 86 per­cent of Ta­coma fam­i­lies were plan­ning to come back to school in a hy­brid ap­proach, while 1.5 per­cent said they did not plan to come back at all and 11 per­cent said they were un­sure.

The Amer­i­can Academy of Pe­di­atrics is­sued guid­ance last week encouragin­g “hav­ing students phys­i­cally present in school.”

“Lengthy time away from school and as­so­ci­ated in­ter­rup­tion of sup­port­ive ser­vices of­ten re­sults in so­cial iso­la­tion, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for schools to iden­tify and ad­dress im­por­tant learn­ing deficits as well as child and ado­les­cent phys­i­cal or sex­ual abuse, sub­stance use, de­pres­sion, and sui­ci­dal ideation,” the AAP guid­ance stated.

Space is go­ing to be tight, dis­trict staff said.

In ad­di­tion to re­quired masks and face cov­er­ings, students and staff must fol­low a six-foot so­cial dis­tanc­ing frame­work in all learn­ing spa­ces when re­turn­ing to school in the fall.

The dis­trict is re­quired to cre­ate a “space map” for each of its learn­ing spa­ces, Gar­cia said, show­ing how staff plans to keep students six feet apart.

The same AAP guid­ance is­sued this week sug­gested that “3 feet may ap­proach the ben­e­fits of 6 feet of space, par­tic­u­larly if students are wearing face cov­er­ings and are asymp­to­matic.”

When asked how long the on­line and hy­brid op­tions are sup­posed to be in ef­fect, Gar­cia said Thurs­day the dis­trict has been told to plan for the en­tire 2020-21 school year, but that could change along the way.

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