All OSD Students to Transition to Distance Learning Through Dec. 4
Othello School District K-3 students will transition to online distance learning from Monday, November 23 through December 4th. The switch became necessary after Othello reached a threshold set by OSPI, the Centers for Disease Control, and local health officials.
Life skills and self-contained classes will continue in-person as they have previously.
"Two of our elementary schools, Hiawatha and Scootney Springs, both had two cohort groups who were quarantined at the same time," said Superintendent Dr. Chris Hurst. "According to guidance from state and local officials, this is a milestone that requires the district to transition all students back to distance learning for a period of time."
There are several conditions under which schools must transition to distance learning. First is when two schools have two cohort groups quarantined at the same time. "We've met those criteria," said Dr. Hurst. Another condition is when staffing levels make it unsafe or difficult to operate in-person classes. "We're approaching the second condition as well. As of Friday morning (Nov. 20), 72 staff members were either quarantined or were awaiting COVID testing results. That's more than ten percent of our district-wide staff," said Dr. Hurst.
Dr. Hurst said that district officials met with Adams County Health Department officials on Friday morning. "We were informed of the threshold in that discussion."
"In addition to our concern for staff, the safety of our students is our top priority," said Dr. Hurst. On November 20th, nearly 6 percent of the district's students were out due to pending COVID testing, illness, or quarantine. Fourteen students have reported confirmed cases, most of them in the lower grades. "There is no question that in-person is the best instructional delivery method. But we have to weigh the advantages of in-person instruction against our obligation to keep students safe," said Dr. Hurst.
New COVID cases are growing explosively in Adams County. "The health department informed us that their caseload has grown to the point where they may not be able to help us with case tracking and contact tracing in a timely manner. This is another safety issue that contributed to the transition," said Dr. Hurst.
School buildings will remain open with limited staff on hand to assist families. "If parents need to pick up items from the school, we will have staff there who can help them. Likewise, if families need assistance with internet connectivity or other matters," said Dr. Hurst.
Staff are ready to handle the transition smoothly. "Our teachers have been here before. This isn't our first switch to online learning and we're getting pretty good at it," said Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, Pete Perez. "We already have the model, the technology, and the knowledge base in place. We're confident that we can deliver quality education online."
The school district will also continue to provide meal pickup and distribution. "Meals will be available for pickup on school days from 11 am to noon at Hiawatha Elementary, Othello High School, and McFarland Middle School," said Director of Dining Services, Janette Root. "Our transportation department will also continue to help distribute meals. Their schedule and list of locations is available at www.OthelloSchools.org."
"The number of COVID cases or quarantines in our schools has become overwhelming," said Dr. Hurst. "The growing numbers each day have led to district staff expending more time and effort tracking COVID activity, and less time attending to other important matters that need our undivided attention."
The district will thoroughly clean and disinfect school buildings during the transition time. "We will reassess the situation before K-3 students return," said Dr. Hurst.
Kindergarten through third-grade students are expected to return to blended learning on December 7th. Fourth through sixth grade are scheduled to transition on January 4th, with middle and high school students following later in January.
Othello School District encourages all families to remain safe over the holiday season." Please wear a mask when you're in public or any kind of gathering. Practice social distancing. Give this virus space to go away so that we can reopen schools safely," said Dr. Hurst. "The safety of our schools depends as much on what happens in the community as what happens inside our walls. Our community has the power to decide to keep schools open for in-person instruction by doing what is necessary to end the spread of COVID."