Two Seattle schools canceled classes on Monday because of staffing shortages, and Seattle Public Schools leaders are weighing whether to bring back remote instruction. 

Franklin High School and Kimball Elementary School are not holding classes on Monday.

“At this time, we are working to determine if this will be all in-person, all remote, or some classes in-person and some classes remote,” a statement from Seattle Public Schools officials said. “This decision will be based on a review of staff attendance data.”

Schools are prepared to return to online learning if it’s necessary, said Tim Robinson, Seattle Schools spokesperson. Each student has either a laptop or tablet they can take home, and the district has hot spots available.

No other schools in the Seattle district have canceled classes Monday, an official confirmed.

Also on Monday, Lake Washington High School in Kirkland shifted back to remote learning temporarily, according to a statement on the school’s website. The shift was due to COVID-related staffing shortages, other illnesses, and absences.

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On Monday and Tuesday, Lake Washington students will be learning independently from home (asynchronous learning) while staff plan to make the switch to live online learning with a teacher (synchronous learning). On Jan. 19, students will return to in-person learning. 

“To be clear, this is not a case where the health department is dictating closure due to an on-campus outbreak,” Lake Washington officials said. ”This decision is being made by our district due to our inability to safely operate school as a result of so many staff being absent and the number of unfilled sub positions.”

There have been more absences than the school is able to cover, officials said. Students will receive teaching materials on Monday and Tuesday for at-home independent learning.

Last week, state schools superintendent Chris Reykdal warned that some local school districts may need to close temporarily over the next three to four weeks. While state-mandated preventive measures make schools among the safer public spaces, a lack of staff may force a district or individual school building to shut down, he said.

Franklin High union representatives, who are part of the Seattle Education Association, said there wasn’t a clear reason why the district didn’t offer a remote learning option Monday.

“Our staff is very concerned about the health and safety conditions of our building,” a statement from Franklin educators said. “Many teachers are out with positive COVID cases or waiting on test results after showing symptoms.”

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Franklin’s Building Safety Team deemed the school unsafe for various reasons, including not having enough substitutes, no available COVID testing because of staff absences, lack of support and guidance, lack of transportation for students in special education, and the lack and discontinuation of contract tracing, according to Franklin union representatives.

Chrissy Dahms, a West Seattle High social studies teacher, said she would like to see the district also go back to remote learning temporarily. On Friday, more than 20% of the 144 students she sees during the day were out, about the same percentage as the school as a whole, according to Dahms. She said she heard from some who had tested positive for COVID, and from others scared of coming to school and getting it.

Dahms worried about those students falling behind, whereas they could participate if classes were virtual. And this is an especially hard time to miss out on learning for high schoolers, she said, because finals and the end of the semester are coming up at the end of January. With many concerned about their high school transcripts, “this is kind of their last opportunity to improve their grades,” she said.

“I feel like students could handle it if we were to go into online learning for two or three weeks,” she added. “That’s not the same situation as it was a year ago, when there was no end in sight.” Remote learning would also be easier this time around because teachers have built a relationship with students over several months of in-person classes, she said.

As the Seattle Education Association calls for greater safety precautions, Dahms also noted she hadn’t received any contact tracing forms last week. In past months, when a student tested positive for COVID, she would get a form asking for her seating chart, so students sitting near the person with COVID could be contacted.

Julie Popper, a spokesperson for the statewide teachers union, said she has also heard contact tracing has been inconsistent.

Seattle Public Schools this fall hired a company to do contact tracing, and that work is still underway, Robinson said. He also said that “it may be that the increase in positive cases is impacting the team’s ability to conduct contact tracing as it normally would.”