Though we have been focused the past two months on preparing for a modified in-person return to school for the fall, I need to inform you we will begin the school year in a full distance learning model in September. We will not initially be returning with in-person instruction.
This decision is based on COVID infection rates in the area, the draft plans from our work groups, data from staff and family surveys, conversations with neighboring school districts and the support of Public Health-Seattle & King County. We cannot imagine a way to open schools without the risk of significant transmission of COVID-19 based on the current trajectory of infections in King and Pierce counties.
We are unsure how long we will remain in distance learning. We will monitor infection rates and rely on public health to determine when we can safely reopen school buildings.
This decision is not made lightly. I have spent 27 years in public education and I know the best place for our students is in the classroom with a caring teacher and support staff. This is by far the most challenging time for educators. Like all of our parents, this is very personal for me as my younger son will be a senior this year. I know this is welcome news for some and a hardship for others. No matter what, we are committed to doing what is necessary to keep our students and staff safe. I believe this is the best decision right now.
The concerns of our community and staff played a role in this decision. Almost 50% of our families were not comfortable sending their child to school until there is a vaccine or all health department guidelines can be met, while 25% of families were likely or definitely not sending their students to school this fall.
About 10% of our staff fall into the Centers for Disease Control high risk category for COVID-19 and 30% of staff members report they live with a high-risk individual.
We are still planning for a return to in-person instruction in a hybrid or full-time model when public health authorities advise it is safe. At that point, families will have the option to continue distance learning.
During the emergency closures last spring, we learned a great deal about distance learning. The feedback from students, families and staff experiences has guided our work these last few months. We are committed to serving our students with high-quality distance learning. There will be clear expectations, accountability and collaboration for instruction and assignments. We are developing resources and training for staff and families to support the distance learning environment. Students and staff will be held to standards. Grading practices and daily attendance expectations will return. The distance learning will be significantly improved from last spring.
Distance learning may not fully meet the needs of some students with special needs and English learners and we are evaluating the extent to which we can provide services to students who need them. We will have more information in the coming weeks.
I know you will have many questions. We are working out the details to provide answers. We do not have all of the answers right now and I ask for your patience. We make this decision today to give ourselves seven weeks to plan and train for improved distance learning. Please know, this is our sole focus and we are spending all of our time planning so we get this right for our students and our community.
This pandemic has challenged all of us in many ways. We all hoped it would be under control by fall. I am committed to reopening our school buildings when it is safe for students and staff. Until that time, we will work to provide the best possible distance learning experience that engages, supports and challenges each of our students.