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MLSD works on plan for in-person high school classes

by CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE
Staff Writer | September 28, 2020 1:00 AM

MOSES LAKE — The Moses Lake School Board intends to have some kind of “return to school” plan in place for high school students at its next meeting in early October.

Board members voted unanimously at an online meeting Thursday to approve some kind of plan or schedule to allow high school students to return to in-class instruction when the board is scheduled to meet again on Oct. 8.

“We still need an on-campus option for the high school,” said board member Elliott Goodrich. “The data shows kids can go back to school safely. We need to set a date.”

“We have a lot of younger and middle school students on campus, so we need to look at the high school,” said Superintendent Josh Meek.

“That’s a fair thing to evaluate, and its something we should start looking at,” added board member Bryce McPartland.

In July, school board members approved a return-to-school program for the current year that gave students and families three options: full-time remote learning using the district’s special, self-paced curriculum; full-time on-campus instruction; and “blended” instruction that combined two days of in-class instruction with two days of teacher-led, online instruction.

However, in late August, the board voted to delay the start of in-class instruction at Moses Lake High School until the county’s COVID-19 case rate falls below 75 cases per 100,000 county residents over the course of 14 days.

According to the Washington State Department of Health, Grant County has a current COVID-19 case rate of 335 per 100,000 residents for the first two weeks of September, down from nearly 600 new cases in early August.

“COVID-19 cases are trending in the right direction,” Meek said.

However, the superintendent also noted that one class of MLHS students was quarantined because of a positive COVID-19 case. The district is allowing small groups of high-risk and special needs students to gather on campus for instruction.

The district on Friday said that a few cases of the coronavirus have been detected within the district, but no students have tested positive and classes have not been canceled, according to school officials.

In a statement Friday evening, the district wrote in a statement, “We are working quickly in conjunction with the Health Department to notify all individuals and cohorts believed to have been exposed or in contact with COVID-positive persons.”

Meek confirmed Friday that no students have tested positive and that classes will continue normally Monday. According to Grant County Health District Administrator Theresa Adkinson, the cases are not yet believed to be linked and occurred on more than one campus.

Meek also said at the Thursday board meeting that participation in online instruction, especially for high school students, was high and that the district is working hard to make sure all kids remain “engaged” in their education.

“It makes a seamless restart much easier,” he said.

Finally, Meek said initial design work for the district’s new high school — informally dubbed “Real World Academy” and set to be located between the current MLHS and the Columbia Basin Technical Skills Center — is expected to be complete this week.

“Early site grading is going out to bid in October, and we’re moving forward with early site prep prior to the winter freeze,” Meek said.

In addition, Meek said the naming project for the new high school, which will focus on vocational and hands-on education, has also been launched, with the district soliciting name ideas for the new school.

“This school is going to be a really unique school,” said Vickey Melcher, president of the board. “I’d like to see a name that shows what the school is offering.”

The new high school is part of a $135 million school construction bond narrowly approved in February 2017. The bond originally proposed a new, 1,600-student second high school for the district. However, an unsuccessful, year-long challenge to the certification of the bond election as well as the election of Melcher and Goodrich — both opponents of the new full-size high school — to the school board prompted the district to change its construction plans, instead approving a smaller, 800-student high school built on land the district already owns that will focus on career and technical education.

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

Emry Dinman contributed to this report.