“Schools Don’t Reopen Schools, Communities Reopen Schools”
Dear Methow Valley Students, Parents, and Community Members,
Late last week, my family and I participated in the free COVID-19 testing that took place in Twisp. I must admit, in advance of doing so, I found myself attempting to land on a good excuse for not doing so. The laundry needs to be folded. I need to weed the garden. The house needs to be painted… Let’s be honest, while I love my family, I dreaded the idea of sitting in our car, in a long line, kids in tow, on a hot day, waiting to be swabbed.
Unsuccessful, I found myself sitting in my car, in a long line, kids in tow, swabbing my nose on a hot day. Not only did it turn out to be a relatively quick, painless, and uneventful experience, it turned out to be the highlight of my weekend.
As we drove away from the testing site, looking at the long line behind us and thinking about what it will take for us to be able to reopen our schools and our community. I found myself unexpectedly comforted and reassured in a way that I have not felt since the initial closure of schools in mid-March. I thought, “We are not alone, we can do this together!”
Shortly thereafter, I stumbled across an article about a school in Germany that safely reopened for in-person instruction last spring and is now fully open. When asked what they attributed their success to, the Director of Schools stated, “Schools don’t reopen schools. Communities reopen schools.” The Director went on to say that their success reflected the willingness of their entire community to socially distance themselves, wear masks, and participate in regular testing.
As a parent, a husband, a Superintendent, and a community member, I find myself feeling a sense of hope and optimism, fueled by feelings of comfort and reassurance that I’m a part of a community that cares deeply about one another. I’m part of a community that is committed to balancing the physical, social-emotional, and academic needs of our youth with the overall health and wellness of our community at large.
Throughout the MVSD 2020-21 “Return to Learn” planning process, we’ve solicited community input and broad stakeholder participation in the development of the MVSD 2020-21 “Return to Learn” Plan.
What has that involved?
- We formed a MVSD 2020-21 “Return to Learn” Workgroup that spent time reviewing the most current research, explored some of the best practices and failures that have taken place elsewhere, examined survey results, and provided input into the development of a flexible, low-risk set of learning options that align with the WA DOH, CDC, and OSPI guidelines.
- We surrounded ourselves with bright individuals to assist us in making an informed decision. This included Dr. John McCarthy, Okanogan County Public Health Department’s Chief Medical Officer and Lauri Jones, OCPHD’s Community Health Director.
- We partnered with organizations such as Family Health Centers to develop proactive screening and testing procedures to mitigate the possibility of an outbreak and improve access to other critical health care services.
- We developed a safe, low-risk (per WA DOH guidelines), flexible, “Return to Learn” Plan, providing parents with multiple options.
- We shared information with parents about the “Return to Learn” options and solicited their preferences.
- We established small classroom cohorts for students participating in Option A: Hybrid Model.
- We purchased digital devices, hot spots, remote learning platforms, and other related instructional materials in support of all students and parents.
- We provided staff training in the use of the newly acquired devices, learning platforms and other forms of technology intended to support in-person and remote teaching and learning.
- We developed safety protocols and trained all staff using the newly developed MVSD “Safe” Return to Work/Learn Procedure Manuel. The procedures that have been established by the MVSD which follow current guidance from the Washington State Department of Health (DOH), Center for Disease Control (CDC), and Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).
- We delayed the start of the school year, providing students, parents, staff, administrators, and public health officials additional time to:
- Assess and evaluate the current health and wellness of the Methow Valley using the results gathered through the free COVID-19 testing that took place in Winthrop and Twisp. 650 tests, 0 (zero) positive cases in the Methow Valley.
- Facilitate required COVID-19 training for all staff, students, and parents, and substitute teachers.
- Plan and prepare for the implementation of the MVSD 2020-21 “Return to Learn” options.
- Equip parents with the additional time and information necessary to make an informed decision for their child.
- We initiated action aimed at eliminating the transmission of airborne viruses that includes:
- HVAC Filter Upgrades: Following the recommendations provided by Dr. Lindsey Marr, the nation’s leading expert on ventilation and air quality, we have upgraded the filters that we use with our HVAC system from a MERV 7 to a MERV 13 rating.
- Purchase Air Purifiers: We’ve purchased an additional 25 air purifiers (We purchased 50 following the first fire.), ensuring every learning/work space has access to a six stage filtering system that includes a hospital grade HEPA filter, charcoal filter, Negative ion filter, Photo catalytic filter, UV Germicidal light as well as the Activated Oxygen ozone generator.
- Education in the Outdoors: We’ve erected 14 event tents (6 at LBHS, 8 at MVE) to serve as outdoor learning spaces.
- Outdoor Hand Washing Stations: Working in partnership with the Winthrop Kiwanis, Community Foundation of NC WA, and UW Architecture Department, we’ve constructed and installed four outdoor hand washing stations located on the MVE playground and near the entry/exit ways.
- We purchased PPE ready for distribution to all students and staff. This includes:
- A set of “mid-weight” masks produced by eqpd for all staff.
- A set of “featherweight” masks produced by eqpd for all staff.
- A pair of BOCO masks for every student, featuring the design work of LBHS Art Teacher, Erik Brooks and LBHS student, Lindsay Worrell.
- We purchased the recommended cleaning supplies (per WA DOH and CDC guidelines) to be used to clean and disinfect classrooms, buses, and the district’s motor pool fleet.
- We developed social distancing protocols designed to promote the safe transportation of students to and from school on our buses.
- We developed a “grab-and-go” meal service designed to facilitate the safe distribution of nutritious meals to students when attending school in person and at home.
- We established a digital wellness-screening tool for daily use by students, parents, and staff.
- We established dedicated isolation room at each school for students who become ill at school.
- We are currently working on finalizing plans for the coordination of on-site childcare services available to students whose parents serve as medical providers, first responders, grocery store employees, and educators.
- We are currently working on finalizing plans involving the expansion of clubs and academic tutoring services.
- We are currently working with FHC to finalize plans for the coordination of regular, random testing involving students and staff to prevent an outbreak.
The only thing that appears to be missing at this time is you! We miss you and look forward to your return to school in whichever option best meets the needs of your student and family.
Superintendent, Methow Valley School District