The Edmonds School District sure took the air out of the room.
There’s been a huge push of late, with energy coming from the president to the governor on down to some parents, to rally kids back to the classrooms after a year of coronavirus-induced Zoom school.
So when Edmonds, the state’s 12th largest district, announced this past week that grades 3 through 12 will not be coming back, you could just feel what’s likely coming next.
It means other big districts, including Seattle, are probably going to stay out too.
Edmonds said it could only handle the logistics of bringing back a few grades of the youngest kids this year, due to the challenges of on-again, off-again hybrid scheduling and all the classroom spacing requirements.
As a result, the older kids “would likely not return to the classroom until May, leaving very few days of in-person instruction remaining” before the end of the school year, the superintendent said. Might as well stay on Zoom.
So here’s a question: Why don’t we instead shift the end of the school year?
This wasn’t my idea. It comes from a state senator in the Wenatchee area, Sen. Brad Hawkins. He was noticing all the struggles schools are having with transitioning back to in-person learning. It was in his district that the photo went viral nationally this week of Wenatchee High School band kids playing their instruments while zipped into green, plastic-sealed COVID-19 control tents, like dystopian pod people.
“BREAKING: Schools have officially lost it,” read a typical comment about that on Twitter.
Hawkins, who used to serve on the school board there, said all the schools, whether they’ve come back or not, need more time to adjust.
“The pressure is building, but for all these different reasons, it’s not working out that well right now,” he said. “Why not buy ourselves some time?”
Hawkins asks: Why not swap spring break with summer break? Spring break is a week off in early April for most school districts. Rather than take a week then, he says, take eight weeks off, until June.
Then, return to school, ideally in-person, for June and July to finish out the school year.
The genius of this plan is that it doesn’t require anybody to work any extra days. It also allows a couple of months breathing room for school employees to get vaccinated if they wish.
The hope in this plan is that by June the coronavirus pandemic will be ebbing.
But what I love most about it is that schools could take advantage of the outdoors. Classes could be held outside. At a minimum, they could open the school windows. Heck at this point everybody is so worn out by the pandemic that if school more resembled summer camp, that would be fantastic.
Maybe the graduating seniors would only return for June. At least they’d get to see their classmates again. My son, who graduated last spring during the initial coronavirus shutdown, never got that chance.
Some states have launched summer schooling initiatives already, to try to make up for COVID-era learning loss. Tennessee is doing a six-week summer school and raising teacher pay to staff it. Colorado is talking about its schools hosting a “recovery summer.” My take on these is that they’re welcome, with the caveat that students and teachers are drained and may well wilt if assigned a summer slog after also working a full school year.
Hawkins’ idea is better because it simply defers school days now for later. Another form of it would be to go to school only half-time on Zoom this spring, while banking the off days to be used in a short summer school later.
“I’m saying we should cut our losses,” he said.
“Right now the districts are ticking through their remaining 180 school days, struggling, but resigned that this is the way it’s going to be. And then what? Then we’re going to take the whole summer off, just as the coronavirus picture is improving.”
Obviously all of this is complex and would need to be negotiated, which is why it probably won’t happen in any grand way. But the point is that districts need to get more creative in this crisis — and they have a golden opportunity with the school calendar. As well as $700 million in COVID-19 relief money the state Legislature is giving them that they can use to get creative.
A summer in-person session, even for a couple of weeks, could be cast as a way to end the year’s social isolation, to get kids prepped to go back to classrooms in the fall.
If nothing else, do it for the pod people band kids in Wenatchee. Wouldn’t it be a relief if they could practice outside instead?
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