Walla Walla Public Schools students will have to wait a little longer to return to school after all.
District Superintendent Wade Smith announced today in a letter to staff that schools will begin the academic year using distance learning.
“This morning I made one of the most difficult calls I have had to make in my professional career,” Smith said to open his letter. “Based on our community’s current COVID transmission rates I see no other option than to begin this fall under our remote learning program for most students.”
The letter had been shared with employees ahead of the anticipated formal announcement to parents.
Smith said the decision was made in conjunction with the teachers union.
“While this decision did not come lightly, it was a unanimous conclusion that district and (Walla Walla Valley Education Association) leadership came to late yesterday evening,” Smith wrote. “Our current community COVID transmission rates far exceed thresholds established by the Washington State Department of Health’s recommendation to open up schools broadly, even under a hybrid situation.”
The district had planned on going forward with an a.m./p.m. schedule that would see students return to school for half-days. This could still come into play at a later date.
Smith has said throughout the summer that the district was going to start fully preparing a distance-learning backup plan in case this decision became necessary. He referred to the plan as Distance Learning 2.0.
Late last month, he said the program — if it should be needed — would be vastly improved from the distance learning used this past spring when schools closed due to COVID-19. Today in his letter, he echoed this point.
“Our learning model this fall, referred to as Comprehensive Distance Learning 2.0, will be robust,” Smith said. “It will meet the academic and social/emotional needs of our students – it will support those with disabilities, language or learning gaps – it will be remarkably different from last spring’s experience.”