March 19, 2021
Greetings Meridian Students, Families, and Community,
I intended to share some of this information early next week. The fact that the CDC has released new guidance this morning for social distancing in schools has prompted me to share with you today. I received a couple of phone calls this week from parents who were/are anxious and curious to know what the plan is for next year. These were great conversations and prompted me to speak to the planning we have been engaging in and what we know about the next school year, which isn’t much! As it has been for most of the year, planning is riddled with much uncertainty. Our ability to effectively forecast student enrollment and funding levels for this next school year is hindered due to so many unknown variables.
Much of what we typically do to forecast enrollment can be tossed aside. Many of our students who we would plan to be in our core programs, attending the elementary, middle, or high school, may not simply because we don’t know what we will be permitted to provide. Budgeting and developing a staff for hybrid learning with small classes requires many more teachers and is very different for planning regular classroom numbers. We also must consider the significant difficulties we know our students have had to endure in the remote/hybrid model learning programs we have had this year. It is why our buildings and teachers have been implementing increased in-person learning opportunities for students who have struggled and would benefit from additional time in school.
I share this to convey we have been actively seeking potential remedies and avenues to increase our support of our students within the parameters we have. We don’t fully know where we will be in the Fall. Please know we have been working on multiple fronts so we are as prepared as we can be so that when things do change, we are prepared and can act accordingly. We are still bound by the agencies who support our school district: OSPI, Governor’s Office, Department of Health, Department of Labor, and so on. I know it has been frustrating not hearing anything. We have not been able to share any details because we really don’t have the details we need. When we do have certainty, we will absolutely be sharing any changes with you.
In our labor-management meetings this week and with our district staff early today I shared what appeared to be increased momentum for a change from the 6’ social distancing requirement - prior to the release of the CDC’s new guidance. This has been a topic for several weeks at the state and national level, but until this week there hasn’t been much positive consideration for something less than 6’. There are several new studies and school systems in Europe and elsewhere with findings suggesting 6’ is more than what is necessary to attain the same low rates and transmission protection in schools. They also emphasize maintaining safety measures such as wearing masks, hand washing, attestations, and the like. It has been a topic that has been discussed at the highest levels over the past two weeks. Additionally, our Whatcom County superintendents group met with Dr. Stern Wednesday to understand what our local health agency understands about the potential shift to less than 6’. The reality for most schools is that without some change to the 6’ rule, it will not be physically possible to return our students back to school together. We all know the hybrid model is an improvement over pure remote learning, but it has not been great for students, families, or teachers. We have said all along that we are going to prioritize safely increasing in-person learning for our students when it is possible and the agencies guiding us permit us to do so.
The CDC announcement was not unexpected. We just were not aware of the timing. Now that it has been publicized, my conversations with our state and local leaders convey it will take some time for our state agencies to interpret and study the details of any such new guidance from the CDC before changing their guidance to schools here in Washington State. Yes, our goal is to get students back to school and minimize the remote aspect of our current schedules when it is possible to do so safely. When the guidance changes, as we anticipate it will, we will move in that direction with our labor management and building leaders together to do what makes sense for the remainder of this year and in preparation for the next school year. We want to prioritize in-person learning and preserve additional support for students who have continued to struggle this school year. We do not know what this may look like or what the timing may be. There are many areas to consider in adjusting our programs for increased in-person learning when we receive new guidance. Please know we are actively preparing for our next steps.
We appreciate your patience and grace as we prepare for yet another change. It is an honor to serve our students and families.