Superintendent's Message

March 29th, 2021

Increased In-Person Student Learning

Good Afternoon. I hope you are all able to enjoy the sunshine this afternoon. Today's message is about the change in the 6' social distancing rule for schools and our remote learning day.

From the onset of this pandemic, we have shared a desire to increase the level of in-person student learning when the conditions and guidance allowed. The recent change to the social distance requirement from 6’ to 3’ is something we were anticipating. However, we have not been able to make specific changes or plans because we didn’t know whether the requirement would change this school year. We also were not able to plan without knowing the specific language attached to the guidance. We now have that guidance and are working to safely increase in-person learning.

For the elementary-aged students (P-5) the new requirement is at least 3’ of distance between students. There is no link to what the community rate of transmission may be of the COVID-19 virus. For secondary-aged students (grade 6-12) the new requirement is at least 3’ with an added provision that if the community transmission rate is elevated to a certain level secondary schools must pivot back to a hybrid model and utilize the 6’ distance. There are other provisions for distances adults must maintain and distances required during meals. The way the two levels of grades are treated in the guidance has impacted our plan for increasing in-person student learning.

We had done some preliminary planning prior to the release of the new guidelines. Our priorities continue to be increasing in-person learning for students continued targeted specific student support beyond the scheduled day, and ease of pivoting back to hybrid, if necessary. Last Friday we were able to get a bit more specific. We still have many details to work through, but I wanted to share the latest thinking.

The new proclamation by Governor Inslee calls for at least 30% in-person learning for students by April 19th. We have been meeting or exceeding that metric since October at Irene Reither Elementary and since February at Meridian Middle School and Meridian High School. As you know, the circumstances are different in other parts of the state. What follows are our tentative plans for each building that will provide 75%-80% of in-person learning for our students for the rest of this school year. Additionally, while we can’t tell the future, it is our desire to be ready to return to a full in-person learning program for all levels in the fall.

Irene Reither Elementary School
We are targeting this new plan to begin April 19th since conferences are still being conducted and there are several furniture/classroom changes, staffing needs, transportation adjustments, supervision changes, and lunch considerations needing to be ironed out. All students will attend school in-person from 9:00 am - 3:35 pm, Monday - Thursday. Fridays will continue to be a remote learning day and targeted student support for those in need. Lunch will occur at school, but details will need to be worked out as the classroom populations will effectively double from what they are now. The hiring and staffing considerations take time and we feel confident we will have things in place to communicate details out on Wednesday, April 14.

Meridian Middle School
There are several details left to define like staffing, transportation, and scheduling of the courses within the day. We are planning to have all of our middle school students attend in the same shortened schedule: 8:10 am - 12:55 pm, however, they will attend 5 days a week - scheduled to start on Monday, April 19. They will continue to receive lunch as they leave the school since doing so is difficult to attain with the full population needing to be at 6' for meals. Maintaining the same schedule allows for a smooth pivot to hybrid learning required by the guidance for secondary students. This plan significantly reduces remote learning at MMS. The daily afternoon office hours and targeted support for students will be maintained after school. All of these details will be in place to communicate final plans by the end of the day on Wednesday, April 14.

Meridian High School
There are similar elements that must be defined with the high school program to make this shift. Namely, staffing, transportation, scheduling of courses, and how we support students who have incompletes and would benefit from additional time. All of our high school students will continue to attend in the same shortened schedule they do now: 7:55 am - 12:40 pm, however, they will attend 5 days a week - scheduled to start on Monday, April 19. They will continue to receive lunch as they leave the school since doing so at school is difficult to attain with the full population needing to be at 6' for meals required by the guidance for secondary students. Maintaining the same schedule allows for a smooth pivot to hybrid learning. This plan minimizes remote learning at MHS. The daily afternoon office hours and other Friday targeted support for students will be shifted to after school. The group of students who have incompletes from last spring and first semester will also be provided additional support. We do have approximately 30 MHS students who selected a fully remote learning model through MHS. We are working on how they will be supported in this plan. There are several other details we need to examine. All of these details will be in place to communicate final plans by the end of the day on Wednesday, April 14.

Meridian Parent Partnership Program
There would be no change for students enrolled at MP3. There was a commitment to be enrolled at MP3 for this second semester. We do not have space or staffing capacity to facilitate a shift between MP3 and IRE or MMS mid-semester.

March 29 Remote Learning Day

Thank you to all our families for their support and patience with this remote learning day. Since January we have been working to provide opportunities for our entire staff to be vaccinated and prioritized completing the process as soon as possible. I am appreciative of the partnership with Hoagland Pharmacy and their willingness to support that effort. We want our staff to be protected as individuals and value our teachers and support staff feeling confident in their ability to serve our students in the safest manner possible. It also helps to ensure a consistent educational program for our students and families. Everyone in the district has put forth a tremendous effort to serve students in a number of different ways throughout the year. I know families have had to adjust, too, and it has been challenging. I also understand the frustration with losing an in-person learning day when there are few left in the hybrid learning model. We have been considering the potential to shift to the plans listed above, but until last Thursday, were not able to further examine or share those details.

The main motive to make today a remote learning day was to preserve educational programming due to the potential impact on our employees receiving their 2nd vaccine dose Friday evening. There was a strong possibility we may not have had enough personnel to teach or supervise our students just prior to starting the school day. It would have left us needing to warehouse students and not being able to function educationally. In the past few months, our district has averaged 12 to 14 absences a day across all groups. It is often difficult to find substitutes who can fill those roles. Our substitute pools are depleted – as is the case with most districts. Sometimes we must have individuals shift their roles to cover those absences which cause a strain on the programs and support we have in place for students.

Final Thoughts

There is a lot in this message. I hoped to share what we have been preparing to increase in-person student learning for what we hope to be the last big change of this school year. Please know more will be coming out to you over the next couple of weeks from your child’s principal and/or teacher. Much of what we do now addresses the three priorities of increasing in-person learning, providing additional, targeted support for students in need, and the flexibility to switch back to a hybrid model at the secondary level, if necessary.

I’ve said several times this year that none of these are great choices. I do understand the frustration and appreciate the patience and difficulty families have experienced. We remain committed to increasing learning opportunities. Throughout the district, we are excited for these changes and look forward to finishing the year strong and using this as a springboard to a great start in the Fall.

Thank you,