At last week’s Bainbridge Island School District board meeting, Superintendent Peter Bang-Knudsen provided a tentative timeline to start in-person learning, beginning with grades K-6 the week of Jan. 25, followed by grades 7-12 the week of Feb. 1.
In late October, BISD made the decision to delay in-person learning until January based on a lack of staffing, in-person learning preparedness, and rising COVID-19 rates. For the time being, Bang-Knudsen set the district’s sights on Jan. 25 to give additional time for any COVID spikes from holiday outings and to better align with BISD’s schedule.
“It doesn’t make sense to really try to launch something new coming right after a winter break,” Bang-Knudsen said. “We won’t have staff on hand to prepare to get those things ready. I think there’s going to be concern about kind of a holiday peak and or rise of the curve of data. What we’ve seen over previous holidays, it can take two to three weeks for that to come back down.”
The superintendent also addressed why in-person learning couldn’t start Jan. 11 or 18, citing the timeframe would still be too close to a potential holiday spike in COVID, along with the 18th being observed for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. That week also wraps up the end of the first semester where finals and conferences will be taking place for K-6, making the 25th an ideal landing point.
“I think one of the reasons why we’re looking at more of a compressed timeline is we’re finding that operationally — whether it’s transportation or COVID monitors or just having the big majority of our staff and our kids — that it makes it more coherent and makes it easier to operate,” Bang-Knudsen said. “I would say that for the most part, teachers are appreciative of that they feel like, for many of them, that gives them the time to, you know, plan appropriately (for the) transition.”
Many school board members provided comments to the superintendent’s proposed schedule, touching on issues of unclear timelines to the reliance on community members to do their part in the fight against the coronavirus.
“It just bothers me a little bit that I mean the threshold decision is almost anecdotal because we’re looking backward at the data,” board member Mike Spence said. “It’s ultimately really almost going to be a guess. I wish there was a better empirical way to conclude that we’re safe.”
Bang Knudsen followed up Spence’s comments by stating he’s getting “more confident” about some of the new research that has emerged that shows schools are not “super-spreaders.”
“It is incredibly low rates of spread within schools that are following these protocols,” he said.
Board president Lynn Smith said: “I think we also need to really remind the community that even if we do go back to school that everybody needs to be ready to keep their kids home on a moment’s notice. We also have to lean on the community to wear their masks and not do third parties, and all of those things. It’s a group effort.”
Between now and Jan. 25, the district has many goals to meet pertaining to curriculum, staffing and the safety of the schools for students and staff. Walk-throughs of the schools still need to be conducted to ensure classroom set-up and check-in locations. Recruitment and interviewing for substitute staffing is ongoing with a substitute webinar scheduled for Nov. 19. Bang-Knudsen noted that the district needs to have a backup plan if there are not enough subs to effectively teach the students, possibly utilizing other staff of non-teaching positions.