Spokane Area’s Largest Districts To Begin Year With Remote Classes; Palouse Region Schools TBD

The Moscow School District decided earlier in March to close schools after its spring break, after Idaho Gov. Brad Little declined a statewide closure. CREDIT: Architect21c at the English Wikipedia / GFDL gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html
The Moscow School District decided earlier in March to close schools after its spring break, after Idaho Gov. Brad Little declined a statewide closure. CREDIT: Architect21c at the English Wikipedia / GFDL gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html

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Washington Guidelines From OSPI

Idaho Back-To-School Guidelines From Board of Education

BY DOUG NADVORNICK & SCOTT LEADINGHAM

What schools in Washington and Idaho will look like for the fast-approaching fall term still remains an open question in many areas. Education leaders in both states have put out guidelines and recommendations for how districts can make decisions best suited for their areas. But many districts still have yet to announce plans. 

Two that have announced are the two largest in Spokane County.

Administrators in the county’s two largest school districts say their schools will not start their academic year in classrooms.

The Spokane city (District 81) and Central Valley districts say they will offer parents a handful of distance learning options.

Central Valley Superintendent Ben Small said Monday that district made its decision after receiving a recommendation from county Health Officer Bob Lutz.

“Our announcement of virtual start will be a disappointment for some and a relief for others,” Small said. “Our role as the Central Valley School District, again, is to go back to our stated aim of meeting our families where they’re at and being able to provide them with the best option as we go forward.”

Spokane Superintendent Adam Swinyard says parents in his district can choose full-year distance learning or an option that allows for a transition to classroom learning, if that becomes possible later. Both would involve live instruction with teachers.

“It’ll be a real-time school day. So there will be a start and a dismissal. There will be specific times just as it was in a typical day in our school buildings for each subject and period. It’ll look different and it will certainly be challenging across grade levels and course of study,” Swinyard said.

Both districts will also allow students to study online at their own pace.

Swinyard says the district will work to create in-person instruction for small groups of children with special needs and others for whom virtual learning doesn’t work.

In both districts, parents will have two or three weeks to decide the best options for their children. For at least a short while, they’ll also have the chance to change their minds if their original option isn’t working.

Both school boards will have to approve their respective districts’ plans and submit them to the state superintendent’s office in Olympia for approval.

Pullman and Moscow

Though Pullman and Moscow are separated by only eight miles of highway – both similar in demographics and size being college towns – they are subject to two separate state policies offering different guidelines for reopening decisions.

In Pullman, home to Washington State University’s main campus, the school district is still figuring out what the fall will look like. In an open letter Aug. 3, Superintendent Bob Maxwell said the district is considering a mixed approach of partially remote, partially in person or a more definite remote only option – with family input.

“Schools will be reaching out to families within the next week or so to identify your family’s model plan for returning to school in the fall.  This information will be needed to further structure our reopening,” Maxwell said.

WSU previously announced an almost entirely remote learning option for the fall 2020 term.

In Moscow, where the University of Idaho is based, discussions are underway about what the fall term will look like. To that end, the Moscow School Board will hold a special meeting at 6 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 4, for the purpose of discussing the topic. (See Zoom connection information here.)

UI President C. Scott Green has not announced a fully remote fall 2020 semester. A previous plan to offer a hybrid of in-person and remote learning classes is still in place.

“We understand the anxiety some feel about returning to work and class,” Green wrote in a recent letter to the campus community. “More than 1,000 colleges and universities across the country plan to open with in-person classes this fall, including all four-year Idaho institutions and our competitors in Montana and Utah. While going online could make our job easier in some ways, it would be the worst possible outcome for many employees and students,” he said.

The university will hold an “employee town hall” via Zoom at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 4. (Register here for UI employees.)

Doug Nadvornick is news and program director for Spokane Public Radio. Scott Leadingham is NWPB’s news manager.

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