Submitted by Superintendent Eric Webb
As the Superintendent of Orcas Island School District, it has always been my hope that our students would return to campus this fall. There is no substitute for in-person learning. That said, we have been placed in a situation in which the safety of our students, staff, and community could potentially be at risk if school were to open in September in the traditional sense. The alternative is not ideal, but one we have been forced to plan for in these unprecedented times in the name of safety.
You may recall that OISD has been designing and considering two instructional models, In-Person/On-Campus Learning and Distance Learning, based on the Washington State Department of Health (DOH), the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), and the State Board of Education (SBE) guidelines. These models were formed in cooperation with and as a result of the contribution of the OISD Safe Return to School Committee, its workgroups, and parent surveys.
Over the past week, I have held several meetings with San Juan County Public Health Officer, Dr. Frank James regarding our September school reopening plans.
During a Special School Board Meeting on August 13, I will present the Safe Return to School Plan and formally recommend that Orcas Island School District implement the Distance Learning Model format for the start of school in September. At the end of the first quarter (November 3), the district will evaluate whether or not to continue the Distance Learning Model through January or proceed to the In-Person/On-Campus Hybrid Model.
The distance learning model will be an enhanced version of the model we used this last spring. Teachers will meet with each student and family virtually or in-person (observing physical distancing and safety protocols) prior to the start of school in order to adequately prepare the student and family for a distance learning term. We believe this meeting will be instrumental in engaging students and parents in the distance learning process from the very beginning, not to mention the added benefit of allowing each child to meet the teacher and see the classroom. Also new for the 2020-21 distance learning model will be weekly activities at Camp Orkila to safely engage our students in an outdoor setting while promoting overall social-emotional health!
We are committed to providing our Orcas Island children with a positive and authentic learning experience this year despite its challenges. Our focus over the next weeks will be to further develop the Distance Learning Model, provide training for staff, and ensure that all families are connected with their school, classroom, and teacher, so they are ready to fully engage in learning in September.
As I have stated before, we all want our children back on campus as it used to be.
We will get there, but not before it is safe to do so. I look forward to the day when I can welcome all children back on campus to attend school barbeques, sporting events, academic competitions, and concerts. Together we can weather this storm and emerge with healthy Orcas Island children and a healthy community!