Oak Harbor school board adopts decision matrix for older grades

Students in grades 7-12 could be back to hybrid in-person learning in early February.

The Oak Harbor school board has approved the district’s “decision matrix” to bring older students back into the classroom on the same day younger grades will return to hybrid in-person classes.

Students in grades 7-12 have been in distance learning since last spring. Although younger students in grades pre-kindergarten through sixth have been able to return to hybrid in-person classes with mitigation measures, it’s been trickier to find a way to bring older students back to class. Older students switch classes each period so it’s harder to limit the number of people they see each day, whereas younger grades typically stay with the same students and teacher every day.

Under the plan the board approved Monday, the modified hybrid in-person class day for older grades will see half of the students come back to school for the first half of the day while other students do distance learning at home, then switch. The half-day plan for in-person learning will allow teachers to interact with all of their students each day whether it be virtually or in person.

Superintendent Lance Gibbon said class sizes could have up to 17 students in an in-person class.

Under the new decision matrix for older grades, students could return to school the week of Feb. 8. It leans heavily on guidance from the state Department of Health and has input from the school district’s employee groups and district leadership.

School safety measures include spacing desks six feet apart, staggering arrival and dismissal times and wearing masks. There will be no meals eaten at the high school and the middle schools, but students will be offered a lunch to take home.

“These are all components that will be part of the reopening plans for the schools,” Gibbon said.

Each school will create its own safety plan that school leaders will bring to the school board for review later this month, he added.

There are also requirements that Island County Public Health must satisfy that include adequate access to testing, as well as the capacity to perform contact tracing and to monitor the spread of the disease. Gibbon said Island County Public Health would provide a letter of assurance so the school board, staff and parents will know the department has met the criteria needed for reopening.

Many public health nurses and key officers have left Island County Public Health in recent weeks citing poor communication, and the state has taken over contact tracing since then.

Gibbon said the school district and Island County Public Health will have a program that will allow the district to give testing vouchers to students and their families if they are somehow unable to get tested. The district currently provides voluntary testing to its staff on a weekly basis.

In addition to the public health and school safety measures, part of the reopening plan is tied to community virus case counts.

If the two-week disease rate for Island County is below 200 cases per 100,000 population, then students in grades 7-12 can return to school. If the case rate is between 200-350 per 100,000, then only students in grades 7-8 can return to school; older grades will have to wait for two weeks and then the metrics will be checked again. If the case rate is above 350 per 100,000, then reopening for all grades will be delayed.

On a more localized level, if less than 3 percent of staff in grades 7-12 test positive for the virus during mandatory testing the first week of February, then students can return to school. If more than 3 percent test positive, then reopening will be delayed by two weeks and staff will be tested again. It is the same as the threshold the school board approved for younger grades to return to school.

If there is a rapid increase in cases due to an outbreak, or the chain of transmission from an outbreak is longer than two generations of infection, then the school will go back to distance learning for two weeks. If the number of staff out due to illness is at a level where the school cannot operate safely, then students will go back to distance learning for two weeks, or until there are enough staff available to teach.

The schools will bring plans to the school board on Jan. 25.