Students to get longer school days starting on April 19

The decision came after Gov. Jay Inslee’s emergency proclamation telling school districts to figure out ways to give all K-12 students in-person classes for at least 30 percent instructional time.

Oak Harbor students will be going to school for longer days beginning April 19 after the school board approved an expanded opening plan during a special meeting last Tuesday amid parent pleas for kids to resume full-time, in-person classes.

Kindergarten through fourth-grade students will go to full-time, in-person classes for four days per week, and middle school and high school students will go for two full days.

Students in intermediate school, or fifth- and sixth-grades, will keep their same schedule because they are already running two full days of in-person instruction per week.

Elementary school students have been going to hybrid in-person classes for two days a week. Middle school and high school students have been going to in-person classes for three hours in the morning two days per week.

The decision came after Gov. Jay Inslee’s emergency proclamation telling school districts to figure out ways to give all K-12 students in-person classes for at least 30 percent instructional time by April 19.

Oak Harbor parents also staged a small protest outside of the school board’s last regular meeting at which they held signs demanding kids be allowed to go back to school full-time.

Under the most recent plan school board members heard this week, students will still be in cohorts, and it won’t look like how school did more than a year ago.

Administrators may ask some elementary school families to switch teachers so that classrooms will have enough space to comply with social distancing requirements, Assistant Superintendent Dwight Lundstrom said.

“Kids are going to be in the far reaches of the classroom,” he said, adding that shifting class sizes will ease the transition.

On Friday morning, however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxed social distancing guidance from six feet to three feet. The CDC’s decision will not mean an immediate change to school schedules. District Communications Officer Conor Laffey said that the state will need to relax its guidance first before Oak Harbor Public Schools can change its reopening plan again.

Some high school parents had concerns about their children eating indoors with others, so some students will have the option to eat at individual desks or outside under tents, Oak Harbor High School Principal Nathan Salisbury explained.

The high school’s new schedule includes a 30-minute lunch in the five-and-a-half-hour school day. Middle school students, however, will have something to look forward to.

North Whidbey Middle School Principal Bill Weinsheimer said that the school will offer some after-school activities because students won’t need to rush home in the middle of the day to do distance learning in the afternoons.

Wednesdays, currently a distance-only day for all students, will continue.

All three representatives from elementary, middle and high schools said that the day was key for supporting “distance plus” students, helping struggling students and preparing curriculum.

Crescent Harbor Elementary School Principal Kate Valenzuela explained that teachers use Wednesdays to maintain Google Classrooms for their distance learning students, or struggling students may get individual help.

She also said Google Classrooms will still be part of student learning because they can be helpful to students who are in quarantine because their families had been exposed to COVID-19.

For example, there was a command on base that was “pretty severely impacted by a rash of COVID” cases recently, she said, but students were able to continue learning through Google Classrooms.

Middle school and high school teachers will also use Wednesdays to focus on students in distance learning or who are struggling.

There were five students and four staff members confirmed to have had COVID-19 since school reopened last fall, according to the district’s website.

As a precaution, the school district will test all employees for COVID-19 on April 14.

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