A Mercer Island High School senior at June’s drive-thru graduation ceremony. Photo by Joe Chen

A Mercer Island High School senior at June’s drive-thru graduation ceremony. Photo by Joe Chen

What’s ahead for Mercer Island students

Though it doesn’t have definitive answers just yet, the Mercer Island School District recently shared a comprehensive update detailing what might happen this fall.

The Mercer Island School District (MISD) recently provided a comprehensive “roadmap for learning” for the 2020-2021 school year in a new update on its website.

The MISD, like districts nationwide, is in the process of narrowing down details around the upcoming school year and how operations will be affected by the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

School in Mercer Island is slated to resume Sept. 2.

The district noted in the update that “the contents of this document…are only as valid and reliable as the information available today.” The district adds that families should expect plans to change, and that it’s “very likely” that the fall will see “some form of remote or hybrid-learning setting.”

The district shared more information about the four types of “learning days” being considered. Each category — red (entirely remote), orange (a hybrid of in-classroom and remote learning), yellow (in-person learning but with enhanced safety protocols) and green (return to school with relaxed protocols) — corresponds with health guidelines that could potentially be in place in the coming months.

Per the document, a school year must be made up of 180 days and constitute 1,027 hours. According to the update, red and orange learning days can count toward both areas if remote learning is “robust enough.” Transitional days — meaning days spent moving from one model to another — would be treated like “weather days,” which are made up on a different date later on in the year.

The district clarified that the state’s four phases, as part of Gov. Jay Inslee’s gradual approach to reopening Washington, don’t have a direct correlation to plans made by schools, even though social distancing and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) will be required as far as Phase 4.

Social distancing

As of the new update, the district doesn’t know what health screenings/attestations will specifically look like if in-person learning becomes a definitive option. What is known, however, is that in-person learning will require learning stations/desks to be 6 feet apart.

There would still be exceptions. When teachers and staff are walking around the classroom to help students, when students get up to grab supplies, when people are in the hallway between periods or getting on and off the bus, they need not adhere to physical-distancing guidelines. These areas are exempt because they are periodic rather than sustained, the district reports.

Face coverings

Cloth masks will be required in an in-person scenario, though some students and staff will not have to wear one depending on their health status or whether they have a disability. If a student doesn’t wear a mask, the district said in the update, there will be consequences. However, the document states that the district is waiting for more guidance on what classroom removal resulting from not wearing a mask would potentially look like.

“Right now, it seems that a student unwilling to wear a mask will be excluded,” the document states, while adding that the “school still must offer educational opportunity.”

Transportation to and from school will require face coverings. At bus stops, students will be expected to physically distance themselves.

Health screenings, protections

If in-person learning does occur, all staff and students would be required to provide daily health attestations, the district said in the update.

“[We are] working on a technology solution for parents to use for each child each day the student comes to school,” the document states.

It is currently unclear whether this would occur before a student gets on a bus, for instance, or after. If a student or staff member doesn’t follow the attestation protocol, they wouldn’t be allowed in their school building.

According to the document, the district will be working with high-risk staff members to implement additional safety measures as needed. The update noted that for some staff, unemployment, leaves or a new assignment might be necessary.

The district said that it isn’t required to provide special accommodations for staffers living with high-risk friends and family.

Grading, transportation and attendance

The Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) won’t be giving the same grading guidance for the 2020-2021 school year as it had for the 2019-2020 school year, the district said in the update.

“MISD should consider equitable grading practices that provide feedback on learning and not use grades as the only motivator,” the document states.

It is still unclear, the district said, whether the MISD would be continuing with the “no Fs and Incomplete” policy as used for the 2019-2020 school year for the upcoming school year.

Bus capacity wouldn’t change if in-person learning is to resume, but there would be increased hand hygiene and general cleaning measures. Windows would be lowered or rolled down.

“Loading and unloading protocols should be used to promote distancing to the extent possible,” the document states.

It isn’t known how exactly health screenings would work in conjunction with bus service.

A concrete method for attendance-taking is still in need of development, and engagement and attendance “should be discussed,” the document states.

What happens if someone tests positive, other concerns

The district said that if it receives word that anyone on staff or in the student body tests positive for COVID-19 (coronavirus), the school would be informed immediately, and then have anyone who has been in close contact with the infected person in quarantine for two weeks.

Schools would “not necessarily” automatically close if someone within the district tests positive, the document states. Superintendent Donna Colosky and the health department are in charge of making the “final call” on closing a building if it seems the best move after King County’s Department of Health takes over contact tracing and provides guidance.

The document states that right now, the fates of areas like sports, band/choir, P.E., recess, meals/nutrition and learning requirements (i.e., what can be left out) are unknown for the 2020-2021 school year.

At the end of the update, the district confirmed that it’s likely not all schools within the district would unanimously operate under the same “learning day” guidelines. In an elementary school, the document clarifies, some grades might be on a yellow-learning track while others could be on orange simply because of differing amounts of space in a classroom. All elementary schools could start on orange while middle and high schools commence on red, the update said.

“Students are the priority,” the document concludes. “With student and staff safety in mind, MISD will do its very best to bring as many students back in-person as possible.”

The school board will be discussing a draft plan Aug. 6. Following a linkage session for public input Aug. 11, the school board will consider formally adopting the plan Aug. 13.

For more on the 2020-21 school year, like learning-day specifics, go to the updating document.

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