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As Seattle Public Schools preps for March return to classrooms, Capitol Hill area private schools out in front on return to in-person learning

(Image: Seattle Public Schools)

Despite a slower than expected vaccine rollout, Capitol Hill area schools are moving forward with reopening plans. Private schools are out in front with many students already back in the classroom and more starting this week.

Meanwhile, Seattle Public Schools is also gearing up for return. Preschoolers, kindergarteners, and first graders will return to the classroom starting March 1st, officials have been telling families and guardians. But outgoing Superintendent Denise Juneau threw cold water on this idea Thursday, pushing back the expected start date to “later in March,” according to KNKX’s Ashley Gross.

One Capitol Hill private school with plans in the works is also reversing course on its decision to shut down permanently. Amid decreased enrollment and coronavirus-induced financial strain, the Bright Water Waldorf School was set to shut down. Administrators wrote to students’ families that this year would be the 10th Ave school’s last as they “began the task of winding down Bright Water in as ethical and orderly a way as we could.”

Some parents and faculty were already working on setting up a new school, others were looking at alternate public and private schools to join.

 

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But when Congress passed its second COVID-19 relief package in late December, school leaders looked to see if there could be any money available to keep Bright Water afloat. The school applied for the maximum federal funding available and unanimously voted in late January to keep its doors open, reversing its plan, and writing to families with “news befitting the dawn of a new year and the fresh beginnings it portends.”

Like so many local schools Bright Water had to adapt on the fly to remote learning and is only now, after almost a year, working on bringing kids back into the classroom.

Bright Water first brought back its preschoolers and kindergartners full-time back in August for a mostly outdoor learning program, head of school Chaya Keefe said. This amounts to about 25 of the school’s total enrollment of 120 students.

Since then, grades 1-3 were on campus for two days a week back in October, but those 20 or so students were transitioned back into remote learning amid a spike in coronavirus cases around Thanksgiving, according to Keefe. Next week, school leaders plan to bring these first, second, and third grade students back after some outdoor meetings last month.

Several other Capitol Hill-area private schools are in the same boat, bringing back more and more students to school buildings as local caseloads have somewhat improved and vaccination continues. School administrators consistently pointed to state Department of Health guidelines as their handbook on how to safely bring back students. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced that, if precautions are taken, then the chance for coronavirus transmission in schools is relatively small.

At St. Joseph School, located on 18th Ave E, kindergartners similarly returned first, in September, with about 15 kids to each classroom, primary school director Mary Helen Bever said. Older elementary grades have been slowly coming back more recently, with third graders returning in mid-January and fourth graders at the beginning of this week.

The St. Joe’s primary school has an estimated 300 students in all, with about 220 now learning in-person and about four-hour school days on campus. Basically everything has been cleared out of classrooms other than the desks to allow room for physical distancing.

“In the elementary grades, it’s not just about the academics,” Bever said. “They really need to learn how to be students. They have to have that social growth and learn how to behave and you really don’t have that when you are on remote.”

St. Joe’s had one isolated confirmed coronavirus case a couple weeks ago, its first since reopening in September, according to Bever. When students get dropped off in the morning, they are staggered by last names to reduce traffic with one administrator checking a COVID-19 symptoms checklist and someone on the other side of the car taking the student’s temperature.

Middle schoolers at this Catholic school, which includes fifth through eighth graders, have come back more slowly. Around October, about 30 or 40 kids returned for elective classes like theater and near Halloween, a few more students in need of increased attention were also allowed back, according to middle school director Vince McGovern. Like Bright Water, however, building access was tamped down as coronavirus cases spiked a couple months ago.

(Image: Seattle Public Schools)

Starting Monday, though, about 25% of middle school students, or about 70, will be on campus each day. They’ll be in the same classroom all day, instead of moving from room to room based on subject as they usually would, with six students in each room still on computers in meetings with the other 18 students learning remotely on that day.

“It’s a formative time in their life,” McGovern said. “They need to be around others and if we can do that in a safe manner for them and the adults, it’s our responsibility to do so.”

Similar to St. Joe’s, Seattle Prep has had a quarter of its 770 students on campus every day, except for Wednesdays, since Jan. 11, according to school president Kent Hickey. For example, students with last names A-D were learning in person on Monday.

Every school is handling coronavirus and returning to in-person instruction a bit differently. The Northwest School on Summit hasn’t come back yet, but “plan to in the near future,” the school’s communications director said.

And right now at Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences (SAAS), there are between 120 and 160 students on campus each day before switching to a hybrid model near the end of this month, which “brings students back on campus by their division and rotates between Upper School and Middle School on a weekly basis,” a spokesperson for the school said. Both SAAS and Bright Water said they have purchased air filters for classrooms.

While some families have opted out of resumed in-person instruction, many school leaders said parents have wanted their kids back in class for months. Hickey noted that he thinks this opportunity has been positive for students’ mental health.

“Kids do really well when there’s a routine and coming back into a familiar place, wearing a uniform, being with their friends, having class, they’re back into a structure,” McGovern said. “That’s a good and healthy thing for kids.”

 

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Nope
Nope
7 months ago

UK found highest infection rate in school age children in December, just before they closed all the schools – without random testing you have no idea what’s actually safe.

Privilege Much?
Privilege Much?
7 months ago

Portugal has prohibited private schools from reopening when state schools are closed in order to prevent elitism and further social stratification. With all our concerns about inherited privilege, we might want to take some of that scrutiny to private schools here.

Mimi
Mimi
7 months ago

We’re in a race between vaccinations v. variants and we do not know who is going to win. The smart public health move would be to just wait and see if cases spike over the next month or so due to the variants. Also – there is absolutely no way schools should open unless every teacher and staff member is fully vaccinated.