Exterior of Islander Middle School. Blake Peterson/staff photo

Exterior of Islander Middle School. Blake Peterson/staff photo

Superintendent: Full return to in-person learning Sept. 2 unlikely

In a new letter, Donna Colosky shared new specifics about how a typical school day might unfold under various models.

The Mercer Island School District (MISD) has shared frequent updates on how 2020-‘21 school year planning amid the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic is shaping up throughout the summer.

A July 17 letter from MISD Superintendent Donna Colosky provided the most specific update so far about how exactly a school day may unfold once schooling begins Sept. 2. As discussed in previous updates, the MISD is weighing four different “learning day” options to enact depending on what health guidelines are when the school year starts.

Planning is being headed by various “learning forward” workgroups comprising district staff and parents.

Colosky shared that an additional district-level advisory group, which is in charge of reviewing plans before a formal adoption submission to the school board is made, met Wednesday, July 15 and will continue to meet until the school board makes its final decision.

“We are endeavoring to be as flexible as possible in our planning process and utilizing the most current and applicable data sources from our region,” Colosky wrote in the July 17 letter.

In the update, Colosky shared what might happen on a day-to-day level with each type of learning day. A “red” learning day is entirely remote; “orange” is a hybrid of in-class and remote learning; “yellow” marks a return to school but with increased health precautions and limitations; and “green” sees, essentially, a return to pre-pandemic operations.

Red learning day

If approved, a red learning day would “focus on synchronous instruction for students through Zoom with daily check-ins and learning blocks with teachers,” Colosky stated.

As currently drafted, a red day at an elementary school would consist of two learning blocks every morning. This would be followed by a lunch block, then a third and final afternoon learning block.

For middle schools, students would be required to check in with each of their six classes on Mondays. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, periods 1, 2 and 3 would be focused on; 4-6 would be emphasized Wednesdays and Fridays.

High schools would attend periods 1, 3, 5 and 7 on Tuesdays and Thursdays and 2,4 and 6 on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Orange, yellow and green learning days

The “orange” model would see small groups of students go to in-person classes (which would see through social distancing requirements and other health guidelines) with others staying home to learn.

“One of the many difficulties of the orange day plans is how to simultaneously manage student learning both in-person and remotely,” Colosky wrote. “We continue to work to resolve these challenges.”

Concerning a yellow learning day, which sees a full return to school but with numerous safety precautions, Colosky wrote, “We hope that our youngest and most vulnerable learners will be able to start the year in a yellow day scenario.”

But she noted the challenges of this. Because of social distancing mandates, only 16 students at a time could take up a classroom. Colosky said that monitoring movement in typically busy areas like hallways, entryways, lunchrooms and restrooms would require “considerations,” but she did not go into specifics about those considerations might be.

The letter did say that large group gatherings wouldn’t be allowed and that community access to the building would see restrictions.

A green learning day — which seems the least likely to be in effect by the time the 2020-‘21 school year commences — would see a conventional return to schools.

“Our goal is to move as quickly as possible through the continuum of learning to the yellow and, eventually, green learning days,” Colosky wrote. “However, recent reports from King County and Washington state indicate that it is unlikely that by Sept. 2 we will be afforded the option of opening in our yellow model.”

She added that the district is cognizant of the reality that certain grades/schools could experience different learning days depending on viral transmission.

“Our focus and energy this summer has centered on creating schedules and preparing for the most robust learning in a remote or hybrid environment,” Colosky wrote.

Key discussions and decisions about the 2020-‘21 school year start next month. The Aug. 6 school board meeting will revolve around the draft school reopening plan. Then, on the 11th, a meeting with the community to receive feedback about the draft will be held.

On the 13th, the school board will consider adopting the plan. The district is required to submit its approved reopening plan to the state by Aug. 19.

To read the full update from Colosky, go to the MISD website.

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