MLSD sets Nov. 2 as time for high school students to receive some in-class instruction

by CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE
Staff Writer | October 12, 2020 1:10 AM

MOSES LAKE — If all goes according to plan, the in-class portion of “blended” instruction at Moses Lake High School will resume on Nov. 2.

At an online meeting of the Moses Lake School Board on Thursday, board members voted unanimously to begin the in-class portion of “blended learning” — where students take classes on campus two days a week with the remainder done remotely — the first Monday in November.

In addition, the board also voted to expand small-group instruction — such as special education, Junior ROTC, and other in-class offerings — on Monday, Oct. 19, in preparation for the return to campus.

“Small groups are already on campus,” said Superintendent Josh Meek.

The Moses Lake High School drama club is currently working on a “radio show” rather than a play, and the commons has been turned into a campus learning center where students can come and get help with their school work or “just find a quiet place to study,” Meek said.

“But we’re not looking at a full campus return, that’s still sometime in the future,” Meek said. “We still need to figure out how to make ‘blended’ work.”

Earlier in the summer, the district approved a plan that gave parents and students the option to choose full-time, in-class instruction, “blended” instruction that would be two days on campus and three days off, and full-time remote learning using the district’s Apex online curriculum.

However, in August, board members voted to both delay the start of the school year and limit high schoolers to online instruction only until case rates of COVID-19 came down.

Meek said that while the numbers set by the board in August — 75 or fewer cases per 100,000 residents during the prior 14 days to resume blended learning and 25 or fewer for full-time, in-class instruction — were still guides, case rates were moving in the right direction and would not prevent the district from letting teens come back to high school.

According to Grant County Health District, for the two weeks ending Oct. 7, there were 206 COVID-19 cases diagnosed in Grant County — well above the guidance approved by the board in August.

“Are we going to implement this plan if the rate is where it is today?” asked board member Elliott Goodrich.

“It’s important people understand we’re doing the best we can,” said board member Bryce McPartland. “We’ve got a choice, and that choice is to return kids to school as much as possible. Remote learning is not working for most kids.”

“People don’t want to get sick, but they want to get back to moving forward,” said board member Shannon Hintz.

“I don’t want to be cavalier,” Meek responded. “We will move forward pending a major shutdown or outbreak. We have on-campus learning happening now.”

Meek said the roughly 1,500 students who opted for some kind of in-class instruction will be split into two cohorts of 750 students each. One cohort will be on campus Monday and Tuesday, and the other cohort will be on campus Wednesday and Thursday, Meek said.

In addition, Meek said the district is still looking at how to handle “high risk” classes such as band, choir and physical education as well as how to handle students who attend Columbia Basin Technical Skills Center or are in the Running Start program.

Meek also said that the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, which oversees high school sports, has said that team practices for “low-risk sports” — tennis, swimming, diving, golf, cross country, track and field, and non-contact cheerleading and dance — can resume. Participation must be linked to class studies, and practices are limited to six participants with strict social distancing.

Assuming high school students can return to campus full time in November, Meek said the next task the district wants to focus on as it recovers from last March’s coronavirus-related closures is getting students back into elementary schools full-time.

“We already have a number of younger learners on campus, and we want to shift away from hybrid to full-time,” he said.

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