Fife Public Schools

A Message from Superintendent Alfano

March 26, 2021

Dear Fife School District Staff and Families,

As many of you heard yesterday during Governor Inslee’s press conference, he and the Washington Department of Health (WDOH) are supporting the CDC’s guidance of reducing the physical distancing in classrooms from six feet to three feet for students.

Before I get to what that means for students in Fife, I would like to point out that, while the above guidance has changed, other parts of the original guidance has not. Our school staff must still remain six feet apart at all times. Students and staff must also continue to adhere to the six feet spacing requirement. Additionally, areas of the school where students would not be wearing masks, such as while eating lunch, must also continue to adhere to the six feet guideline. While it is great news that the new three feet guideline will allow us to explore the idea of transitioning more hybrid students into classrooms at some point this spring, our leadership teams are going to need a little time to make sure we are meeting ALL of the CDC and WDOH recommendations and requirements.

The updated CDC guidelines are based on studies of schools across the nation, as well as internationally. These studies have found that, if schools strictly adhere to the other mitigation strategies such as hand washing, mask wearing, improved ventilation, daily attestations, and contact tracing, reducing the physical distancing requirements from six feet to three feet showed no substantial differences in infection rates in classrooms or schools. This is great news!

With all this being said, here is my ask of staff and families: please give our district leaders some time to navigate this new information to make sure our schools are meeting all requirements as we look into expanding our daily student counts in classrooms and schools. Like we did when we transitioned from fully remote learning to our hybrid learning model, we began our transition with our youngest learners and moved up the grade levels over time. This health department recommended transition schedule allowed us the opportunity to make sure we were keeping students and staff safe under the new guidelines. I see the potential of a similar transition for this process. We will consider this for our elementary students first (grade K-5), our middle school students next (grades 6-7), and then we will look at our secondary students (grades 8-12).

It should be noted the transition of our secondary students is much more complex, and we face more challenges. First, the guidance is a little different and also includes monitoring the community spread numbers in our county. The fact is, over the last week or two, we are actually seeing a slight upward trend in cases. I hope this new trend in Pierce County is short-lived, and we get back to the downward trend we have seen for the past two months. Additionally, secondary schedules are much more complex than elementary schedules. Because building our secondary hybrid schedule required us to create some very unique staffing solutions to accommodate approximately ⅓ of our students in full remote learning, undoing that mid-semester will be very challenging. The last factor will be timing. After we work to bring our elementary students back more days per week, we will need to evaluate if the transition of secondary students is worth the disruption for the short remainder of the school year. It might well be worth it, but again, we will need time to evaluate it.

Our leadership teams will also need time to work with our labor unions - both FEA, which represents our certificated staff such as teachers and counselors, and PSE, which represents all support staff including bus drivers, paraeducators, kitchen staff, and custodians. As we have changed from remote learning to hybrid learning, we have made sure we are meeting the needs of all our staff, and this transition will be no different.

This morning I met with my cabinet team to prioritize our “to-do” list. Early next week, we will update our board of directors on this new change. We have also scheduled time to meet with building administrators and labor union representatives. My hope is to update you again prior to spring break with a little more detailed information.

Thank you again for your support! This community has been unbelievable as our school district has navigated these most unprecedented times. I appreciate your patience.