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MLSD sends all middle schoolers home for remote learning, citing staffing issues

by CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE
Staff Writer | November 16, 2020 1:00 AM

MOSES LAKE — The Moses Lake School District is sending all of its middle school students home and will have them do school remotely for the next two weeks, saying the spread of COVID-19 among faculty and staff has made it difficult to keep the schools staffed.

The announcement affects students at Frontier, Chief Moses and Endeavor middle schools, and begins Monday, Nov. 16. The district said it hopes to have students back on all three campuses by Monday, Nov. 30.

“We understand the concern and frustrations this emergency change will raise with many students and parents. As much as have worked diligently to help create a healthy and safe learning environment, unfortunately, a recent spike in positive cases of COVID-19 linked to exposures outside of our schools has left us short-staffed,” the district said in a message posted on its website Saturday.

The announcement follows an emergency online meeting of the Moses Lake School Board late Friday. Superintendent Josh Meek, who announced that he an entire family had tested positive for COVID-19, recommended that all middle school classrooms go to remote learning noting that over the last two weeks, 14, MLSD staff and faculty have tested positive for the pandemic, 10 of them in the last week. Eight of those cases are “known exposures” that have been traced to off-school events, he added.

“I don’t want people to think the (school safety) protocols aren’t working. This comes from beyond school, and we’re feeling the impact of it at this time,” Meek told board members.

“I’m one of those cases, and it’s not related to school,” the superintendent added.

As a result, Meek said 67 school staffers, 15 of them middle school teachers, are currently quarantined for the next 10-14 days, a number Meek said will likely rise by Monday. With the district already having trouble finding enough qualified substitute teachers, Meek said that makes it difficult to keep all three of the district’s middle schools fully staffed with teachers.

The are 47 teachers working at Chief Moses and another 38 at Frontier, according to data available from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

“There’s an inability to staff the schools fully, and we need to take immediate action,” Meek added.

In its announcement Saturday, the MLSD said it would continue “to monitor and assess COVID levels at all schools throughout the district, including the elementary schools and Moses Lake High School in the coming weeks and adapt as necessary.”

While board members approved a general policy to close schools and switch to remote learning to protect students and teachers and limit the spread of COVID-19 in order to keep as many of the district’s unaffected students in class as possible, there were concerns that with the holiday season coming up, a number of teachers, staff and administrators are going to attend events that will get them exposed to COVID-19.

“While we do understand people have a right to make choices, this happened two weeks after Halloween,” said Assistant Superintendent Carole Meyer. “What’s going to happen two weeks after Thanksgiving, and two weeks after Christmas, and two weeks after New Year’s, and two weeks after the Super Bowl?”

Grant County, Washington state, and the entire United States have seen a surge in COVID-19 cases over the last month, with daily reports of new cases hitting records unseen even in the early stages of the pandemic last spring.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.