Spokane Public Schools will continue to take a measured approach to reopening schools, Superintendent Adam Swinyard said Tuesday.
Despite a recent upswing in positive COVID-19 tests locally, Swinyard said the district is committed to bringing kindergartners back full time on Monday. However, Swinyard offered no promises on when first graders and others might return.
“We’re going to evaluate on Oct. 26,” said Swinyard. “We have no anticipated timeline for first graders.”
Swinyard noted that by Oct. 26, the district will have a better idea of how safety is affected by the return of kindergartners.
“So far, we’re encouraged with the feedback we’ve received from our kindergarten families,” Swinyard said. “So far, we haven’t seen anything to cause us to do anything different for kindergartners.”
The district opened the year on Sept. 14 with distance learning only. Recently it began an alternating schedule for kindergartners, with half attending full-day sessions.
Currently, most buildings are occupied by teachers and staff, a small number of special-needs children and attendees of SPS Day Camps.
While nearby districts — notably Mead, East Valley and nearly all in North Idaho — have moved students back to buildings, the two largest have moved cautiously.
Deferring to the recommendations of the Spokane Regional Health District (SRHD), Spokane and Central Valley have so far brought back few students.
Central Valley has moved slightly faster, with all kindergartners returning Oct. 7.
However, in a letter to families, Superintendent Ben Small reiterated that both districts will pause a minimum of two weeks before adding another grade.
“We are grateful that in diligently working together with the SRHD over the past months, we have solid plans in place to make this phased-in approach a reality,” Small said.
That approach is backed by SRHD health officer Bob Lutz, who said recently that the youngest students should return first.
“You cannot teach a kindergartner to learn on a computer from home,” Lutz said.
Moreover, by opening doors to kindergartners, districts will be able to “get their processes in place,” Lutz said. “There are lessons to be learned by working through their plans.”
While districts could return middle and high school students to their respective buildings without affecting social distancing, Lutz noted recently that 10- to-19-year-olds pose a substantially higher risk of transmitting or contracting COVID.
In the Puget Sound region, the only teaching happening in school buildings has been reserved for students with disabilities.
At least one Seattle-area school district — Bellevue — had set a tentative date of Oct. 26 to send younger kids back to school in person. But the district reversed course Friday, delaying in-person learning until January because of rising numbers of coronavirus infections in King County.
Seattle Public Schools has set up a task force to look at school reopening but has no immediate plans to bring large groups of students back. The district is seeking educators to volunteer to teach a class outdoors, an attempt to bring students and teachers together safely and minimize risk.
Federal Way, Highline and Kent have ruled out reopening before the end of the year. Mukilteo, Issaquah and Tacoma have delayed plans to bring kids back to the classroom because of the complexity of the task, or because COVID-19 rates are rising in the community.
Seattle Times staff reporter Dahlia Bazzaz contributed to this report.