September 18, 2020

Dear Families and Staff,

Through each step of the process of our return to school, I am fully aware of the tension our community feels related to our decisions. This tension is felt differently by each of us as we all work to understand the environment and climate we are experiencing. I recognize the dissonance related to the virus and I hope we have demonstrated empathy for your specific viewpoints throughout the summer and fall. 

As a community we need to begin planning for what our next steps will be while diligently paying attention to our primary responsibilities of education, health and safety. I am acutely aware of the varying opinions about whether we should or should not start returning some students to in-person learning. My commitment is to walk through this process with care and attention to the details required so that our students are learning in classrooms that have the required mitigating measures in place, our staff are working in an environment that demonstrates the commitment to their well-being, and our community has confidence that we are taking responsibility for our role in reducing the spread of the virus. 

I know the timeline for this work will be too slow for some and too fast for others. This timeline and our benchmarks for success will remain focused on our ability to bring students back in accordance with the requirements made by the Governor’s office, the State Department of Health, King County Public Health, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Labor & Industry. 

On September 16, King County Public Health released their weekly “Key Indicator Data.” I am encouraged that the data provides continued positive trends.

These data show improvements or stabilization in key categories:

Transmission Rate:
To slow the spread of the virus, a community needs a transmission rate less than 1.0. 

✔ On September 16, King County has a transmission rate of 0.6. This remained constant from the previous week’s report.

Cases per 100,000 over 14 days:
The Washington Department of Health Decision Tree identifies districts as high-risk when cases are greater than 75 cases/100K over 14 days and moderate-risk when cases are between 25-75 cases/100K over 14 days.

✔ On September 16, King County has 55 cases/100K over 14 days. This places districts in King County in the moderate-risk category. This showed a decline from the previous week’s report. 

There are additional positive trend data on the Key Indicator page of the King County Public Health page that I would encourage you to review.

It is also important to note that we are actively monitoring our local data. Redmond, Sammamish, and Kirkland currently have a range of 13.5-42 cases/100K over the last 14 days per the King County Public Health daily outbreak summary. These data are only part of the information required to fully evaluate our situation in Lake Washington. Over 50% of our staff live outside of the district boundaries with some living in areas that currently have a much higher transmission rate. It is imperative that we account for all aspects of this situation and cannot limit ourselves to single data sets.

Next Steps: Department of Health Guidance
Per the Department of Health Decision Tree recommendations, we are planning to begin our implementation of the Educational Modality for school districts in the “moderate-risk” category.  Specifically, the recommendation states:

  • Recommend distance learning as described above (high-risk). In addition, consider expanding in person learning to elementary students.
  • Over time, consider adding hybrid in person learning for middle or high school students if limited COVID transmission occurs in schools.

Additionally, the Department of Health makes the following statement in the Decision Tree document about returning to in-person learning:

DOH favors a cautious, phased-in approach to resuming in-person instruction that starts with staff, small groups of our youngest learners, and students who are unable to learn or receive critical services asynchronously. Over time, schools can add additional students to in-person models. In-person learning should be prioritized for elementary school students because they may be less likely to spread COVID-19 than older children, have more difficulty learning asynchronously, and may otherwise need to be in a childcare setting if their parent(s) work. While important to a child’s growth and development, DOH prioritizes educational opportunities over extra-curricular activities in schools or other activities in the surrounding community.

You will see in our planning and next steps we will use a cautious and phased-in approach. It is important to know that I am committed to focusing on student educational experiences and health & safety of all stakeholders.

Next Steps: Students considered first for in-person return
In alignment with all agencies’ guidance and based on our knowledge of student educational experiences and developmental stages, we will start by bringing back our kindergarten learners followed by our students in first grade. We know our youngest learners have more difficulty learning remotely and their developmental needs will benefit greatly from in-person learning. After we have successfully transitioned Kindergarten and then first grade; we will determine the best path forward to phase in additional grade levels/students to in-person learning.

Next Steps: Timeline
Given the work associated with transitioning back for in-person learning, we have set a target of kindergarten returning for in-person learning in October. There are many variables (some explained below) so we cannot yet point to a specific date. As we have additional information about a specific timeline and logistics we will provide it to you through our weekly communication. 

Next Steps: Data Collection
One of the key sets of information needed for specific plans to be made are both student and staff data about in-person learning.

Student Data – The District will launch a survey on Wednesday, September 23 for Kindergarten and First Grade families. This survey will ask parents to select between in-person learning or full remote learning for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year. We understand the challenge with making this selection and will provide as much detail as possible knowing there will still be unanswered questions.

Staff Data – The District will launch a survey on Wednesday, September 23 for Kindergarten and First Grade educators and specialists to determine which staff are categorized as High-Risk per the Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines.

These data will allow the District to move forward responsibly and plan for the implementation of the Lake Washington Virtual Academy for Kindergarten and First Grade in addition to making plans for our neighborhood and choice school in-person learning.

Next Steps: Tasks
Opening school in a fully remote model was a significant task and we are still attending to a number of details. Re-opening school for full grade levels of students will be another large task but we believe that we will develop a process that will assist us moving forward. Some of the tasks currently underway or being planned for:

  • As referenced above, using the data set for students and staff to provide for in-person instruction in accordance with agency and contractual requirements. 
  • Finalizing and communicating all procedures for attestation, health & safety, cleaning protocols, lunch routines/locations, recess, and response plans. These procedures need to be consistently applied at all our elementary sites. 
  • Working with the Lake Washington Education Association over the next weeks to negotiate the terms for the working conditions for general education staff who will be teaching in-person.

I appreciate you taking the time to review this information. These are important decisions and I thank you for your partnership as we work towards providing additional learning options/opportunities for our students. You can expect to receive weekly communication from me as we work through the process of planning for our youngest learners to return to in-person learning.

Thank you,

Dr. Jon Holmen, Superintendent
Lake Washington School District