Davis Elementary in College Place.

There is one predictable element that COVID-19 has provided to schools’ plans for reopening this fall: unpredictability.

The College Place School District — the latest local organization changing gears mid-summer around pandemic plans for school — will now aim to reopen this fall using a hybrid a.m./p.m. model similar to the one being developed by the Walla Walla School District.

Superintendent James Fry had hoped a full-day return to classes would be possible.

“‘Hoped’ is the key word there,” Fry said. “As we evaluated the situation, it became more and more apparent that a full return was not in the cards at this time. And that something that would reduce the number of students on our campus at a time by about 50% was a more practical response.”

The move is part of Fry’s effort to develop flexible plans he hopes will allow the district to be ready for all scenarios.

Under the a.m./p.m. model, half of the district’s students would attend in-person instruction in the mornings and participate in distance learning in the afternoons. The other half would do the opposite.

Fry said a survey will be sent to parents soon asking which option they prefer.

“I am using the term ‘preference’ instead of ‘choose’ because we have to balance it 50/50,” Fry said.

The survey will also include a fully remote-learning option.

This all assumes in-person learning is allowed by the state and county and that the district is able to reach an agreement with the teachers’ union to return to in-school instruction. The district is alternatively planning for a scenario where this isn’t possible.

The a.m./p.m. model is one level of a three-level plan the school board approved at its meeting Tuesday night. The other two options are a full return to in-person instruction — as was originally hoped for — and a full distance learning option.

Fry said a full return would only happen in the unlikely event that the state’s social distancing requirements are removed.

The third option, full remote-learning, may be more likely. In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown announced that most of the state’s schools will not be allowed to open this fall unless new COVID-19 cases reduce to less than 10 per 100,000 residents of a county for a seven-day period.

A similar decision by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee would make any in-person instruction in Walla Walla County unlikely. In addition, some teachers unions across the state are resisting a return to the classroom at this time.

Late last week, the Washington Education Association announced its opposition to a return to in-person instruction and urged Inslee to require schools to use distance learning to begin the school year.

Fry said his district has a good relationship with its teachers’ union and hopes to come to an agreement that includes safety procedures in place for teachers and students alike.

Should a remote-learning option be required, Fry said the district will be prepared. The plan is to use paper packets for kindergarten and first-grade students.

“We heard very strongly from a lot of parents with students in those grades that it was just too complex to be on the computers with the little folks,” Fry said.

A fully online program will be used for grades 2-12. Fry said the online classes will be interactive and developed and taught mainly by the district’s teachers. Using a pre-made online learning program is not being planned at this time.

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Jeremy Burnham can be reached at jeremyburnham@wwub.com or 509-551-8896.


Jeremy Burnham covers education and Columbia County for the Union-Bulletin. He is a recent graduate of Eastern Washington University, where he studied journalism, and is an Eastern Eagle fanatic.