School board targets a return to school this month for its youngest learners and specific student groups
Based on updated guidance from state health officials, Walla Walla Public Schools’ Board of Directors and administration is working with staff to adjust its reopening plans, paving the way for preschool through 5th grade students to resume in-person learning later this month. The revisions align current district plans with new state health and safety guidelines released late last month from the State Department of Health and the Governor’s Office.
The school board instructed Superintendent Smith and staff to implement safety, coordination and communication measures necessary to transition kindergarten through 5th grade students to in-person AM/PM hybrid learning on Monday, Jan. 25. Based on the board-reviewed framework, students in preschool and transitional kindergarten programs at the Walla Walla Center for Children & Families may begin in-person hybrid learning as soon as January 19. Under the state-aligned plan, students in self-contained Special Education programs, SEATech students and a limited number of high school students in Career and Technical Education and laboratory science programs will also be permitted to attend in-person lab sessions later this month. A select number of students in grades 6-12 who are struggling academically will also be served on campus for in-person distance learning with additional staff support. Consistent with new state guidance, the district will closely monitor local COVID cases as it eyes returning middle and high school students to in-person learning once case counts reach state-recommended levels. The district is also awaiting new guidance expected this week from the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association regarding athletic practices and activities.
“We understand remote learning has been a challenge for families and students across the district,” said School Board President Derek Sarley. “The good news is there is a significant amount of research showing we can offer safe in-person instruction as long as we are following all of the state guidelines. This is especially true if we start with our younger learners then gradually phase in the older students as we are able to keep kids safe in schools and as local conditions improve.”
According to state officials, numerous studies and research from credible sources like Harvard, MIT, Brown and other institutions have shown with a diligent focus on health and safety measures, it is possible to bring children back to the classroom safely while also protecting our students, staff and community from further transmission of COVID-19.
“To leave no rock unturned, we have also contracted with a third party agency to perform a comprehensive COVID Preparedness Review of our plans, protocols and facilities,” said Superintendent Dr. Wade Smith. “This third party inspection, led by certified hygienists and licensed safety experts, will ensure we have thoroughly vetted and put into practice all of the latest CDC and WaDOH guidance, as we make safety our number one priority.”
Prospect Point Elementary Principal Barb Casey says she is excited to see students return to her campus.
“I know I can speak for all of my principal colleagues as we are so excited to welcome students back into our buildings,” said Casey. “This pandemic has really highlighted the importance of having kids in our schools and we cannot wait to see those eyes light up as they join us again on campus.”
Superintendent Smith says the district remains committed to transparency and communication as the district begins returning to in-person learning.
“It is critical to collaborate with staff, coordinate with departments and communicate with parents and students to ensure a safe and successful experience for all,” said Dr. Smith. “While there are still many things to work out as we prepare for this transition, trust we will work tirelessly to ensure it is successful.”
Walla Walla Public Schools will announce additional updates as planning continues regarding next steps. Visit the district’s website (www.wwps.org) for more details on the Safely Reopening Schools plan.