Walla Walla Catholic Schools plans for a return to in-person school full-time in fall, school leaders announced this week.
Curtis Seidel, president of the school system, said the option is in the best interest academically of students.
“The data shows, based off of this spring’s distance learning nationally, that students learn better in person,” he said. “But of course, we need to balance that need for student learning with the need to preserve health and safety.”
To this end, school leaders have implemented several safety procedures in conjunction with health officials to attempt to limit the spread of the coronavirus when students return.
“Our principal headed up the process in cooperation with the broader community of principals of Catholic schools in eastern Washington, while of course coordinating with the county health department,” Seidel said.
Social distancing will be maintained throughout the day. To keep students 6 feet away from each other, a 36-square-foot area is needed around each desk. Seidel said the buildings are large enough to achieve this, though some reorganization of some classrooms as well as the moving of some classes to different spaces was necessary.
Masks or other forms of face coverings will be required of all students, teachers, staff and guests at all times.
Seidel said while he expects some pushback on the face covering requirements, which is also mandated by the state, he ultimately wants to do what is in the best health interest of students and staff.
“For a variety of reasons, masks have become a very divisive issue in our community and in our country,” Seidel said. “Certainly, they are not comfortable to wear. And because they cover parts of our face, the ability to connect with people is inhibited by it. However, certainly the health benefits of it outweigh those risks.”
Other safety policies include health screenings, which will be done on all students every day before they are allowed to enter the building.
These screenings will include temperature checks. Students with a fever or who are otherwise sick will not be allowed in the building.
Day start and finish times, as well as lunchtimes, will be staggered to limit among students in common areas. However, the schools are also taking steps to make sure some interaction remains in place. Recess will still be held, and Seidel hopes some after-school activities will still take place.
“The before- and after-school activities is probably the most fluid part of our plan at this point,” Seidel said. “But because we believe that we were made for one another, the more we are able to facilitate community, while still maintaining safety, is good for our students and good for our community. What those activities will look like, however, we aren’t exactly sure at this point.”
Seidel said the first day of school is still scheduled for Aug. 24.