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Who decides if Spokane schools reopen? When will parents know? Your questions answered

Questions remain for many families as Spokane Public Schools works to finalize its reopening plan. We set out to answer some of them.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Parents are facing great uncertainty as Spokane Public Schools works to finalize its fall reopening plan.

In a meeting on Thursday, July 30, the district held a meeting to inform parents about its plans for fall instruction. Leaders discussed guidelines for multiple grade levels and scenarios, including online learning or a return to school buildings. 

KREM set out to answer questions that many families may have about the upcoming school year amid the COVID-19 pandemic. We gathered information from the district's meeting on July 30 and an interview with SPS Associate Superintendent Dr. Mark Anderson. 

Who influences the decision about whether schools reopen for in-person instructions? 

Leaders with Spokane Public Schools say they will guidance from both local and state health officials. The district is expecting health officials to release clear benchmarks in the coming days to determine the safety of in-person classes. 

Anderson said on Friday that Dr. Bob Lutz, who serves as health officer for Spokane County, sits on the district's steering committee. 

"We really feel that health officials should give the recommendation. We’re educators, not health experts," he added.

The district has also been in talks daily with the Spokane Education Association (SEA), the union representing teachers, to develop a "memorandum of understanding" between the parties, Anderson said. 

When will parents know about the final plan?

While there is a set timeline and process set for Spokane Public Schools to present and approve a plan, it can change at any time depending on the level of community spread of COVID-19 in Spokane, according to district leadership. 

As it stands now, the district's steering committee is currently negotiating with the SEA. The district and the union will then need to formally come to an agreement. 

That agreement and the plan for reopening school are expected to go to the school board for a vote on August 12.  

RELATED: Spokane Public Schools superintendent 'less and less optimistic' that buildings will reopen in fall

What is the plan for K-4 in-person classes? 

If it's safe for students to return to school building, children in grades K-4 will attend in-person classes daily. 

Here’s an overview of the plan for elementary schools: 

  • Approximately 20 students will be in each classroom 

  • Students will be seated at least six feet apart in classrooms 

  • Specialist experiences will be provided 

  • Breakfast and lunch will be served in classrooms 

  • Students will have regular outdoor breaks 

  • The curriculum scope and sequence will be adjusted 

Anderson said the district has already begun setting up elementary school classrooms with desks six feet apart, meaning teachers will have a model to follow if buildings reopen.

As it stands right now, classes should be able to accommodate about 20 students, he said, which is in line with current elementary class sizes. 

What's the plan for grades 5-6? 

Students in grades 5-6 would attend classes in-person on an alternating day schedule. Activities and assignments will then be assigned for the days the students aren’t physically at school.  

What is the plan for in-person classes for grades 7-12? 

The current plan will rely on an alternating schedule for in-person instruction for grades 7-12.  

Here is a breakdown of what it could look like:

  • Activities and assignments will be provided for students on days when they are not attending classes in person 

  • In-person classes will be designed for six feet of social distancing 

  • Students at all SPS high schools will use Microsoft Teams as their digital platform 

RELATED: 'There's no good solution': Spokane parents anxiously await decision on school reopening

What could online learning look like for students and parents?   

If school buildings cannot reopen, the district has a Plan B in place: Plan B: real-time, online distance learning. 

Parents who are not comfortable sending their child or children back to school for in-person classes can also choose to utilize the district’s distance learning option. 

Spokane Public Schools has been developing its online learning plan over the summer and is ensuring parents that distance learning will look different than what students experienced in the spring. 

Here are some of the changes outlined:  

  • Each online school day will have a set start time and dismissal time

  • Specific times scheduled for each period/subject 

  • Students will experience a blend of live instruction, group work and independent activities 

  • Specialist and elective experiences will be included  

  • There will be set times for intervention support and contacting teachers 

  • Each school in the district will use the same digital platform: Microsoft Teams  

  • Laptop checkout will be available for all students 

Is it true that Spokane Public Schools will be providing computers or tablets for kids who need them?  

Yes. The school district is preparing to provide laptop checkout for all students.  

What about teachers who are high-risk?

Fifty percent of 1,300 teachers recently surveyed by the SEA said they don't feel it's safe to return to school in person this fall.

This prompts questions about what teachers can do if they fall into the high-risk category or are worried about returning to school.

Anderson said the district will have a process where teachers can apply to be an online instructor if schools reopen for in-person instruction. 

At this time, the district believes there will be enough in-person instructors to fulfill its need if buildings reopen.

What happens if a parent changes their mind about children returning to school?

If students initially start with at-home instruction, there may be a waiting period for them to return to the classroom, Anderson said. 

"It could be that they’ve made a commitment for the year if we don’t have enough turnover. But we usually have turnover, and students coming and going," he said. 

Will childcare be available? 

Express Childcare, a program that’s been running throughout the summer, will be an option for families who are returning to work and may need childcare, Anderson said. The district will pick a few sites to use for the service. 

If students are learning online, staff will help the meet with their teacher. 

Anderson added that the district is working to schedule siblings in different grades on the same schedule to ease the burden on families. 

What will curriculum look like?

The district's curriculum team is still working to develop a plan for students. 

Anderson said the idea right now is that they would continue to advance through the curriculum on their days off from in-person school.  

Will students and teachers need to wear masks?

SPS guidelines still include masks for students, but health officials have agreed to let teachers wear face shields so students can better understand during instruction, Anderson said. 

RELATED: How will Spokane schools reopen? Here's the tentative plan