Fife Public Schools

A Message from Superintendent Alfano

August 11, 2021

Dear Fife School District Staff and Families,

I hope this email finds you well. I wanted to send you this summer communication from the district office as I know many of our school buildings are getting ready to send you “back to school” information, if they haven't already done so.

There will be some very obvious discussion points as we return to school for the 2021-2022 school year. Regarding COVID and our past year and half of school, this information will change, be adjusted and change again as we continue to receive guidance and requirements from the Governor’s office, the Department of Health, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department.

Here is what we know for sure at this point in time. All of our schools will be open full time, on regular schedules for all students beginning on September 2nd.

All staff and students in all school buildings - regardless of vaccination status - will be required to wear appropriate masks at all times when students are present. Later this month, we will share more details with staff around this topic, including more specifics regarding vaccinated versus unvaccinated status, what is expected indoors and outdoors, and requirements when students are present or not. Please keep in mind this information could change between now and next week as we are seeing an increase in cases in our county and state once again.

I want to be clear, the decision on masking is not a decision that is, or can be, made at our local level. Neither I nor our school board of directors have the ability to make or change this decision. This is a mandate from the Governor’s office. As with most things involving COVID, we all have a personal opinion; however, the decision to wear masks in our schools is not up for debate at this time. This may change at some point during this school year, and if it does, we will inform you at that time.

To emphasize this point, I wanted to include part of an email sent last week to all district superintendents in Washington from our State Superintendent, Chris Reykdal:

I hope the following messages are very clear and shareable with your communities:

1) The Delta variant is highly transmissible, and a growing number of young people are getting infected with and spreading the virus. Based on a DOH review of the literature:

“From national antibody studies, we know that children do get COVID-19 infection, even if they have had less symptoms. National seroprevalence data show that children (age 0-17) have the highest level of antibodies of any age group (27.8%).”

“Young people have been infected and are spreading this virus, especially Delta, even though they appear less symptomatic. Because they are less symptomatic, they are less likely to be tested and less likely to embrace mitigation strategies in their public interactions.”

2) Wearing masks, for now, is an important mitigation strategy when layered with additional strategies, including vaccinating every eligible person.

3) The ongoing mask order continues to apply to public schools, charter schools, private schools, and tribal compact schools.

4) Under the authority of RCW 43.06.220, the Governor has broad emergency powers, and they have the power of law! As state Superintendent, I have a responsibility to carry out the law, and I intend to do so, regardless of how I might personally feel about masks, or any other requirement placed upon this system at this time.

5) By constitutional authority and RCW 28A.300.040, one of the State Superintendent’s clear powers is, “supervision over all matters pertaining to the public schools of the state.” Apportionment amounts and timing are shaped by additional law, but let me be clear: Boards or districts that intentionally disobey, dismiss, or shun an explicit law, including a Governor’s executive order, which has the power of law, will see an immediate halt to their basic education apportionment, and their federal funds that come through OSPI.

6) Any district that does not offer a full-time, in-person learning experience for each and every family and student that seeks it will be considered in violation of basic education rights of families, and will also have their apportionment and federal funds immediately halted.

7) These critical public health actions, including masking for now, are not at the discretion of local boards or local superintendents.

Local community members will always have the right to bring their grievances to their elected leaders, but in the case of these public health measures, they are not local decisions. Local boards of directors have broad discretion on the details of instructional delivery. They are not empowered, however, to override the legal authority of public health officers or the Governor in times of a public health emergency.

Community actions that result in board actions that violate the law, including executive orders, will jeopardize school budgets, local school personnel, and ultimately the opening of school to in-person learning this fall and beyond.

Individuals who violate the mask orders, or other layered mitigation strategies, not only carry individual legal risks, but they also risk cases and outbreaks in school that will warrant quarantines, school building closures, and disruptions in high-quality in-person learning.

Other information regarding additional COVID mitigation strategies in our schools will be coming soon as well. This will include information regarding sports at our secondary schools and higher risk classes and activities like PE, band, and choir.

The other major inconvenience you will see, feel, and notice is the many construction projects still in progress across the district. Some schools like Columbia Junior High, the new Surprise Lake Middle School, and Discovery Primary will not be impacted much, if at all. Other schools, like Hedden Elementary, will see painting continue as school opens. The bulk of these disruptions will be in the valley at the new Fife Elementary School and Fife High School. Fife Elementary is still on schedule to open up classes on September 2nd, the first day of school. However, there will still be several components of the project that will need to be completed in September, October, and November. Much of this work will be on the grounds, parking lots, and landscaping. This may cause delays getting in or out of the school and may increase travel time. This will be temporary and will get better as we move deeper into the fall months.

At Fife High School, the addition of the new STEAM Center of Innovation is well under construction. While this project itself is isolated and does not directly cause inconveniences, the impact will be felt in the parking lots as some of them have been converted into construction staging areas, and others are being used to house our temporary portable classrooms. Again, this is temporary, but these inconveniences will be with the high school for most of this school year.

While we are extremely thankful and lucky to be in the envious position to be able to build new schools and upgrade many of our existing schools, this does come with some sacrifice. I liken this progress to that of building a new home or remodeling a kitchen while you are living in it. It can be stressful but is well worth the trouble in the end. I hope you agree.

To that end, we ask for your patience as we start the school year. We will do everything we can to keep you updated from the district office and the school buildings, but we will also try not to overdo our communications.

More to come soon, and until then, please stay safe and enjoy the great weather we are having this summer!