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Clark County school districts weigh remote learning for fall

Two of Clark County’s largest districts are gearing up to start the school year remotely, a move that now seems all but inevitable as districts in the region announce their plans to do so.

In simultaneous school board meetings Tuesday, Evergreen and Battle Ground public schools discussed what a remote start to the school year might look like and what challenges they hope to overcome in “Remote Learning 2.0.” School buildings have been closed since March 13 as the state works to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.
In Evergreen, Superintendent Mike Merlino said more news would likely come toward the end of the week.

“This path is becoming more solidified,” he said of a remote start.

In Battle Ground, Superintendent Mark Ross urged his school board to adopt a remote start.

“Boards and superintendents are struggling over this issue,” Ross said.

The two districts combined represent more than 38,000 of the roughly 80,000 students who attend Clark County schools. The Ridgefield School District on July 23 also announced it would likely continue online education.

The final decision rests with the school boards of both districts. It’s a burden Battle Ground board President Troy McCoy doesn’t relish bearing, saying Tuesday he doesn’t want to be in the position of making public health decisions for families and classroom decisions for teachers.

“There’s no road map,” McCoy said. “There are no guard rails.”

Regional moves

As teachers and parents wait for area school districts to make a final decision, Puget Sound and Oregon school districts are starting to announce their move to remote education.

Oregon this week also announced new metrics for school reopenings, a step Washington state has yet to take. The new restrictions mean the state’s largest districts, including Portland Public Schools, will remain closed until at least November, The Oregonian reported.

Absent similar restrictions in Washington, Ross in Battle Ground proposed tying the district’s reopening to the state’s phased reopening approach. Under Ross’ plan, Battle Ground would remain closed to in-person instruction through Phase 3, with a hybrid reopening possible in Phase 4.

A district survey of students and staff shows about 50.5 percent of families support in-person learning in Phase 1 or 2, while only 24.9 percent of staff agree.

Clark County remains in Phase 2, and Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday announced an indefinite freeze on counties advancing to new phases.

“The safety of our staff, students, and families is a top priority, and I am not willing to take a chance that our staff and families could be exposed to COVID-19 when alternative options are available to us,” Ross wrote in a letter to families on Wednesday.

Evergreen, meanwhile, is still in the process of developing what a remote start would look like, though proposed a schedule that would allow students to collect material for the school year in-person followed by a full transition to online classes.

Our job is to teach kids and keep them safe,” Merlino said. “Our priority is always in teaching our students in the best way we can in a safe manner and that’s ultimately the way we’ll be doing it in Evergreen.”


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