January 5, 2022: Pathway Forward update


Hello Lake Washington Families,

I hope this message finds you well as we start the new year. As a district, we are actively working to respond to the early challenges in 2022 to provide our students with the best experience and education we can. In whatever form schooling takes, we are focused on our goal of preparing students for graduating future ready. Every LWSD employee has been asked to do more this year in order to prioritize in-person learning for our students while maintaining our health and safety protocols. As we enter the New Year, we find ourselves faced with some challenges to operating schools.

Weather:
Currently, winter conditions in a number of spots across the district were not safe for bus routes, student drivers or student walkers on Monday which caused us to close school. We initiated a two-hour late start on Tuesday and even with that, we know there were still challenges in some places across the district. I want to acknowledge the challenge that school cancelations create and please know we will only close schools when it is absolutely necessary. I also want to thank you for your understanding as we aim to make the best decisions with the information we have available. We will continue to strive to make decisions and communicate those decisions as soon as we can so that you can make preparations as a family.

COVID-19:
As students transitioned to the Winter Break in December, we were made aware of the next COVID-19 variant, Omicron. This variant, while reportedly having more mild symptoms, transmits more rapidly than prior variants of the virus. It is important to remember that we are held to the same standard for this current variant as we were for prior COVID-19 variants meaning, the same rules apply for a positive case and quarantine. While the CDC has updated their isolation and quarantine guidance related to general activities, King County Public Health and the Washington State Department of Health has specifically indicated that schools are to continue following their K-12 guidance.

Positive cases by date notified

As you can see by this graph, the number of positive cases that our schools are experiencing has dramatically increased in the past few days as compared to what we were experiencing over the past few months. 

Please do not send your child to school if they are experiencing any symptoms, have tested positive or have been identified as a close contact and are not fully vaccinated. In these instances, keep your child at home and contact the school for further instructions for when it is okay to return to school.

The following are some likely outcomes, impacts and responses that we are expecting as a result of this new variant.

Potential outcomes related to the Omicron variant:

  1. More district employees test positive for COVID-19 than before, requiring those employees to quarantine at home.
  2. More students test positive for COVID-19 than before, requiring schools to evaluate potential outbreaks within classrooms and schools.

Impacts of these potential outcomes:

  1. Staffing shortages – LWSD is currently experiencing a staffing shortage. Having more staff required to quarantine due to testing positive for COVID-19 will exacerbate the current staffing shortages.
  2. Classroom/School Closure – There are several variables that could cause us to close a classroom or school. Per public health guidance, we are required to consider shifting classroom instruction to remote in response to a classroom outbreak. Given the rise in cases across King County, we also must be prepared for the potential that a school may need to close due to an outbreak or due to a staffing shortage that would not allow a school to operate.

Response to the impacts:

  1. LWSD has developed an emergency staffing plan with a goal of providing additional staff to keep schools open. Additional work is being done to develop options to support unfilled absences at schools. One option being currently implemented is the hiring of “full-time substitutes”. This will provide the district with guaranteed staff that are not assigned to a specific school and can be placed where needed. It will take multiple strategies to address our current staffing shortages.
  2. To keep schools open we are implementing the following Health and Safety strategies:
    1. Implementing remote meetings with staff whenever possible
    2. Limiting visitors and volunteers to essential activities only
    3. Maximizing social distancing in workspaces to the greatest extent possible
    4. Continuing to enforce masking and offering staff the options to request a surgical mask or a KN95 mask
  3. Increasing opportunities for testing. The Health and Safety team is meeting to develop options to increase testing availability. As additional information becomes available it will be communicated to staff and families
  4. Communication with students about Health and Safety protocols. We will be providing reminders to all students about required health and safety protocols in alignment with the Washington State Department of Health School Guidance.
  5. Communication with Seattle/King County Department of Health. We are in constant communication with our local health department to ensure we are implementing the health and safety measures that will help us navigate this recent increase in cases to help us meet our priority for students of in-person learning.

Families should prepare in advance for the possibility that a school may temporarily need to move to remote learning.

I also want to address a question that I continue to receive. A logical question is, why not just move all students to remote learning? First and foremost, we are required to offer full-time and in-person learning for district students. This was articulated in the Washington State Department of Health guidance and confirmed by State Superintendent, Chris Reykdal. Only under specific circumstances are we able to shift students to remote learning for a discrete time period. These circumstances are related to a classroom/school outbreak or an inability to appropriately staff a school. There is not an option to proactively assign all students to remote learning similar to what occurred in the 2020-21 school year, in fact the rules governing schools were adjusted for last year to allow for remote learning and have since expired. Given the staffing shortages that we are facing, we do not have the flexibility to offer a mix of in-person and remote options similar to what we offered last year.

Finally, I want to recognize the staff in Lake Washington for their ongoing efforts for students across the district. Each staff member has gone above and beyond knowing that we are in a constant state of change whether that is health and safety guidelines or staffing shortages. We are all fortunate to have a dedicated staff that are doing their absolute best every day.

I also would like to recognize our families for your ongoing support for our schools. We value your partnership and for entrusting your children to us each day.

I will continue to provide updates as new information becomes available. You can anticipate receiving communication in the coming weeks regarding what to expect if a classroom or school needs to close. We are doing everything we can to keep all our schools open and available to our students but know that we need to make plans should conditions require a change.

Respectfully,

Jon


Dr. Jon Holmen, Superintendent
Lake Washington School District