I have spent the past few weeks researching and monitoring the rapidly changing COVID-19 coronavirus health issue in our region and across the world. Every step we’ve taken over the past couple of weeks has been taken only after thoughtful consideration and deep discussions with many who are invested in both the education and well-being of our children. I have also been working closely with our district leadership, school board, educators, labor groups, families, health departments, peer school districts and elected officials to plan for what the CDC suggested may be a required change from our daily routines. OSPI State Superintendent Chris Reykdal recommended last week that districts engage in contingency planning for the possibility of extended school closure should the situation in our state dramatically change in the coming weeks. As you know from previous communication, we have been engaged in that work, in earnest.
Now, I believe that the time has come for our district community to make an important shift. All schools sites in the Northshore School District will be closed beginning Thursday, March 5 for up to 14 days while we continue to monitor the situation and health department recommendations. Today and tomorrow we will communicate plans to transition instruction from classroom to cloud (online learning) beginning Monday, March 9. This decision was made thoughtfully and with the support of a variety of district and community leaders.
Why am I making the decision today?
I considered the fact pattern that my team and I have been tracking since mid February and into this afternoon. By now you are aware that we closed Bothell High School for two days last week to deep clean and wait for test results from the family member of an employee. Frank Love Elementary was closed on Monday so we could clean and wait for test results on another employee. We are still waiting for those results. Multiple individuals from across our district are in self-quarantine because they may have been exposed to the COVID-19 coronavirus as a result of the issues at the senior home in Kirkland. At about 8:30 this morning, we were informed by a parent/volunteer at Woodmoor Elementary School that their medical provider had run tests and the results are “presumptively positive” for the COVID-19 virus. Our staff at Woodmoor worked quickly with families to minimize any additional exposure and send students home safely. In addition, 26 of our schools have been affected via direct or indirect exposure to the COVID-19 virus. We are receiving numerous calls and emails from parents and staff who are self-quarantining or are choosing to keep their students home. Today, our absentee rate for students districtwide was 20 percent.
While we are working to minimize exposure of our students by making sure the education continues online, we are also concerned about the health of our staff. Dr. Jeff Duchin from Public Health Seattle & King County said today that children are not believed to be at serious risk for the disease, but we must be mindful of the population that is at higher risk. The new public health recommendations to slow the spread of coronavirus we received following today’s press conference indicate that those people at higher risk should stay home and away from large groups of people as much as possible; e.g., those with weakened immunity, pregnancy and those who are 60 and over. As we are a veteran staff in Northshore, we have employees who fall into all of these categories. The conservative number calculated for those 60 and over alone is an impact of more than 500 or over 16 percent of our staff, including those in instruction, in food services, and those driving buses full of students. We also have numerous staff that have other identified high risk factors making the safe operation of our schools untenable.
Rapidly changing situation:
At the time I sent my letter last night, there were 21 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus in King County, including eight deaths; there were six cases in Snohomish County, including one death. Today, the Washington State Department of Health website says the number of confirmed cases in King County is 31 with 10 deaths. Keep in mind that just six days ago, there was only one known COVID-19 coronavirus case and no known deaths. As our district straddles both counties and three cities, we are impacted by the collective data.
Our Governor has shared his thoughts that folks should begin to think about avoiding large events and assemblies to reduce the risk of catching the virus. King County Executive Dow Constantine said at today’s news conference, “We are encouraging employers to maximize telecommuting and to make it possible for employees who can work from home to do so. Community groups should avoid creating large gatherings. The rule of thumb that Public Health has recommended is gathering of more than 10 people.” Many of us would agree that a school building with 500-2000 individuals including students and staff, would be considered a large assembly, especially during lunch and other periods where sometimes hundreds of students gather.
Dow Constantine also said this landscape is shifting by the hour. He added, “The reality is this, the more we slow down the spread of this virus, the more we slow down the disease, the greater the chances of keeping people healthy, of saving lives.” He also encouraged employers to maximize telecommuting. (All non-essential King county large group meetings will be cancelled for the next three weeks.)
What about our students’ education?
Let me be clear: Education is a service to which our district is resolutely committed. It is not a place. To that end, we are shifting our education from the classroom with four walls to the cloud. We are taking this strategic approach not because we think by doing so, we will stop an epidemic; we are simply trying to do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19. Our job is to provide quality instruction to our students in a safe and welcoming environment, and we are no longer able to provide quality instruction and maintain an environment that is safe for our staff and students to learn as we do not have sufficient staff to safely operate our schools. By transitioning from the classroom to the cloud, we are also giving medical/public health officials and the community time to get some critical answers regarding incubation period, level and length of contagious status, and fatality rates, as well as a communication strategy that includes all necessary partners. We want to do our part to slow the spread of this coronavirus.
Are we ready for school to cloud (online) learning?
After Tuesday’s training, we are now prepared to transition from the classroom to the cloud, to move teaching and learning beyond the four walls of the classroom for all of our students. Our instructional staff have and will continue to develop their skills for providing instruction to our students within an online environment. The team worked with students today to make sure they are acquainted with the online platform(s) they will be using and that students are equipped with a device and wifi to engage in virtual learning. This Northshore Learns webpage provides classroom to cloud information and instructions for students and parents/guardians.
What about my child who requires special education services?
Instructional staff who provide services to our students with disabilities will make every effort to deliver the service minutes indicated in each student’s IEP utilizing the platforms available. When services return to the classroom setting, IEP teams can meet to determine if additional services are needed.
The education of our students is dependent on our entire community. While the idea of online instruction or blended learning is not new to our instructional team, moving instruction fully online is a journey that we will all navigate together. If you have a specific question or concern about the first iteration of our classroom to cloud learning model, or a technology issue, please review this webpage. If your question is not answered after reviewing the Northshore Learns webpage, you can complete a form and someone will respond as quickly as possible.
What if my student doesn’t have a computing device or internet connection?
I understand that transitioning from the classroom to the cloud will require computing devices for all of our students. If you are in this situation, I am asking you to complete this form and we will arrange to loan your student a computing device and if necessary an accompanying internet hot spot.
What about after-school and extracurricular activities?
- For Thursday, all district evening events are cancelled.
- For Thursday only, all middle school sports are cancelled.
- For the duration of the shift from classroom to cloud, all scheduled field trips are cancelled.
- State level competitions will continue as scheduled unless cancelled by the individual high schools.
- After school community facility use will be evaluated on a case by case basis.
My student is worried about their grades, college, AP/IB exams. What can we do?
Our team is reaching out to all of those organizations to learn whether they can make accommodations for students.
What about families who need childcare?
This transition may put considerable strain on some families of elementary age students who must continue their regular routines and do not have daycare options for their students. I have staff working on a plan for developing student support centers. The feasibility and logistics are still under development. If we are able to offer additional support, we will connect with families to gauge interest in this type of service. If childcare becomes a hardship for you because of our classroom to cloud instruction model, please complete this form immediately so we can assess the need across our district. We are working with district, parent and community partners to explore options.
My family depends on the Free and Reduced Lunch Program. What can we do?
We are establishing a plan to provide meals for all students who are in need. We will have more details in the coming days.
How do I learn about COVID-19 coronavirus and how to reduce risks for my family?
This link will provide you with information on the virus and how the Northshore School District has been preparing and communicating.
I want to close by sharing how grateful I am to each and every one of you as we have navigated this challenging situation together. Further, I want to remind each of us that here in Our House, we care for one another and support one another. We have community members who are even now anxious about exposure risks and awaiting diagnosis either for themselves or a family member. Let us not forget to both act with precaution and be careful with our own health. Let’s also remember to be gentle with one another. We will continue to have challenges in front of us, and I know we can meet these challenges; together, all things are possible.
We are Northshore !!
Michelle Reid, Ed.D.