Several weeks ago, when COVID-19 infection rates in King and Pierce counties were closing in on the moderate range, the Auburn School District informed parents it was “cautiously optimistic” it could begin to bring students back for in-person learning.
That was then.
As Auburn School District Superintendent Alan Spicciati wrote parents in a letter late last week, the numbers are not in the moderate range, and indeed, they have climbed to the point where Auburn’s infection rate is double that of King County.
“We cannot bring students and staff back in-person while the infection rates are climbing,” Spicciati said in the letter. “We are using the Department of Health decision tree and following the public health data to aid in our decision-making … We need to be securely in the moderate range as determined by the state Department of Health with infection rates trending down before we can return to in-person. As much as we want students back in school, we are not there yet.”
Based on the progression of COVID-19 metrics and guidance from the health department, Spicciati said, the earliest date the district could bring grades 3-12 back for in-person learning in a hybrid model is Feb. 2.
“This is a difficult decision, and not what any of us want. We are letting you know so you can plan around this target date. This is the earliest we could return in grades 3-12, unless health department guidance changes,” Spicciati said. “We are hopeful we might bring our youngest learners back earlier than the older students. Our current plan is to evaluate the health data in mid-December to determine if a mid-January return in hybrid is feasible for students in preschool through 2nd grade.”
Meanwhile, Spicciati said, the district continues to gather information from families. The preliminary results of the Family Commitment form the district sent out earlier this month show 40 percent of them want to remain in Distance Learning, and 60 percent prefer the hybrid model.
About one-third of the families responded to the district’s Family Commitment form, and in a recent staff survey, more than 94 percent of staff are ready to come back to school, Spicciati said.
“We still need information from all families so we can plan and staff the hybrid program when we are able to bring students back. We will re-ask families in late November and early December to choose hybrid or continue in Distance Learning,” Spicciati said.
Those who did not complete the form, he said, will have another opportunity to provide the information at the end of next month.
“Knowing we are going to continue in the Distance Learning model for the next several months, we will continue to refine the program to provide a supportive, engaging and challenging experience for our students,” Spicciati said. “For now, students will remain with their current teacher. We will be asking families for feedback on Distance Learning in a short survey soon.”
Spicciati said the district is aware that the WIAA has tentatively scheduled sports seasons to start in January, so the district will communicate directly with high school families as decisions are made about sports.
“We want to be transparent in our decision-making. I will update you at the beginning and middle of each month to keep you informed. In the meantime, the best way to get students back to school is to slow the spread of COVID-19. The community can help by wearing a mask, physical distancing and avoiding gatherings with people outside of your household,” he said.
“We are going to be flexible so if it is advisable, we will be able to gradually return. I appreciate this amazing community we live in,” Spicciati concluded.