COVID spike pushes district to remain in distance learning through December
Walla Walla Public Schools will remain in Red Stage, keeping students in distance learning through Dec. 18, which marks the beginning of its winter break. Currently there are 471 active COVID cases in Walla Walla County, 436 of them stemming from the Walla Walla and College Place communities, based on the county’s COVID Activity Report received Monday. This represents a ten-fold increase over the last month alone. According to local Department of Community Health officials, the county’s COVID positivity rate is at 15 percent and has been climbing in recent weeks, in addition to a 20 percent increase in cases that could not be sourced to a contact.
“We are very concerned about the uptick,” said Dr. Larry Jecha, Walla Walla County Public Health Officer, in a recent correspondence to district officials. “The Washington State COVID-19 Surveillance Report, issued by the federal government, identifies Walla Walla County as being in the top three counties with the greatest increase of COVID-19 cases in the past three weeks in the State of Washington.”
“While we desperately want to be serving students in person, the current virus activity simply doesn’t permit us to do so at this time,” said Superintendent Dr. Wade Smith. “We have to do our part to protect our students, staff and families from this serious health crisis, and not exacerbate community spread by prematurely opening.”
At Tuesday night’s board meeting Superintendent Smith reviewed additional measures the district is implementing to support students and families during extended distance learning. “I am so proud of our staff who are doing everything in their power to support students and families during this extremely difficult time,” said Dr. Smith. “We understand the incredible burden that families are going through and we need to put every resource available to us on the table to support our students and parents.”
The district has invested in additional para-educator time to support students through home visits and helplines, partnered with internet providers to provide free, high speed internet to families without service and developed a website to coordinate mental health and other counseling services. The district is also providing free meals for all students over winter break to ease the hardship so many of our families are experiencing.
The district will closely monitor COVID case counts, in coordination with local health officials, and will communicate with families over winter break regarding January learning options. We are encouraging families to prepare for distance learning to continue through at least the first two weeks of January. This will allow county health officials time to monitor potential viral impacts from possible holiday exposures.
“We urge everyone to follow the safety protocols set forth by health officials including wearing masks, social distancing and maintaining good hygiene,” said Dr. Smith. “By working together we can get COVID case counts down to safe levels and begin the transition of students back to campus.”
More information regarding the district’s Safely Reopening Schools Plan, visit: https://www.wwps.org/safely-reopening-schools