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Walla Walla Public Schools set sights on fall

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Wade Smith

Smith

Fall plans are in the works for Walla Walla Public Schools, Superintendent Wade Smith assured the school board at its study meeting Tuesday.

What these plans are going to look like, however, is still a mystery.

Smith said the district is waiting for guidance from the state on when schools can reopen — and what that reopening will look like — after closures in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Smith told the board, which met virtually, he doesn’t expect that guidance from Washington state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to come until July, but he isn’t waiting until then to prepare.

Should Gov. Jay Inslee set conditions for reopening schools, Smith said he wants to be prepared by the time they are announced.

“My goal is to role-play all those various scenarios that we may or may not see so that when you get that guidance, I’ve already done all that homework,” Smith told the board. “That way I’m not trying to re-get together all of our cooks, all of our custodians and all of our administrators in the middle of August.”

Smith stressed to the board that nothing can be decided for sure until guidance comes from the state. He said Inslee’s four-phased program to reopen the economy does not have equal impact on schools.

For example, Phase 3 allows for public gatherings of up to 50 people in the community. Smith said that does not mean 50 students can enter a classroom. He says schools must wait until specific guidelines for them are released.

Smith did say all options — including students returning to schools, instruction continuing at home or a combination of the two — must be considered.

If at-home instruction continues, Smith acknowledged current methods may have to be re-examined, whether that continues to be via paper packets for elementary students or a move to more technology-based instruction, such as Google Classroom.

The district recently distributed surveys to staff, students and parents, asking for opinions on how at-home education should occur moving forward, should it be necessary. More than 2,200 people responded.

A majority of respondents — 57% — said they either “supported” or “strongly supported” learning for elementary students continuing on paper over moving online.

Board member Eric Rindal said the district should prepare for students whose parents’ don’t feel comfortable with them returning to school this fall. Smith assured the board that plans are being made to take care of these students as well.

Plans for summer school were also discussed at the board meeting. While there isn’t anything currently planned for most grades, Smith said some form of a high school credit recovery program would be in place online.

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

Reporter

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.