In lengthy correspondence, phone calls and Q&A sessions with parents, as well as in meetings with staff and community partners, administrators at Vashon Island School District (VISD) are laying the groundwork for something that hasn’t happened since March of 2020 — the return of all students, at once, to five-day-a-week, in-person school.
It’s happening soon. At Chautauqua Elementary School, 1st-5th grade students come back on Aug 30; kindergartners return on Sept. 1; pre-schoolers will arrive on Sept. 6. Both McMurray Middle School and Vashon High School begin on Aug. 30; sports practices started at the high school on Monday.
“Time is flying right now,” said Superintendent Slade McSheehy.
Here are some of the many considerations surrounding this year’s return to school.
Inslee mandates vaccinations for school employees
On Aug. 18, Gov. Jay Inslee announced a directive requiring all employees and volunteers working for both private and public K-12 school districts, charter schools, and education service districts to be vaccinated or receive a religious or medical exemption by Oct. 18.
Those who fail to comply with the directive will be subject to non-disciplinary dismissal for failing to meet the qualifications of the job.
The sweeping mandate does not pertain to students, though almost 400 local youth ages 12 and older got shots last May in vaccination drives presented in partnership between VISD, VashonBePrepared, its Medical Reserve Corps, and Vashon Pharmacy. Most of that number were VISD students.
McSheehy said, last week, that he estimated that 90 to 95% of VISD employees were also now vaccinated, but the district was now confirming the vaccination status of all of its employees so that the district would be in compliance with the governor’s mandate.
“We anticipate working one-on-one with those who aren’t vaccinated,” he said. “We’d like to better understand their circumstances.”
Manda Long, who is a new co-president of Vashon Education Association, the island’s teachers union, said that the union was following the guidance of the state’s health experts and that VEA would work with the district to make it possible for all its members to receive COVID vaccinations.
“The health and safety of our members is our most important task,” she said.
Elizabeth Parrish, of Vashon Educational Support Personnel (VESP), also said that her union would work closely with its members and the district in the coming days and weeks on any issues that might arise from the mandate.
McSheehy said he expected to sign new memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with the unions shortly.
Schools communicate extensive protocols to parents
In a lengthy FAQ document sent to parents, found at tinyurl.com/bn3p7m6w, the district has communicated a raft of safety procedures for all three district schools, including mandatory masking for all when indoors and on school buses. Physical distancing measures will also be practiced to the extent that they are possible with a full student body in attendance at each school.
The district is closely adhering to all guidance from Public Health – Seattle King County and Washington’s Department of Health, McSheehy said.
But some safety protocols in practice during last spring’s return to the classroom will no longer be in place.
These include daily health attestations by students and employees, which are no longer required by DOH.
And a full-time, remote/online learning option for the 2021-2022 school year is also not available. Instead, VISD has said it can assist families preferring remote education with enrollment in an accredited online school that has been approved by Washington’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction — detailed at tinyurl.com/fz5erteh — or in a home-based program.
The superintendent also recently announced that the district was working with the MRC and VashonBePrepared to implement testing of students and other health measures for the upcoming school year. Symptomatic testing will be available for any student or family member who reports symptoms, he said, and surveillance testing options are currently being explored with the state’s “Return to Learn” program.
To read more about VISD’s COVID resources, updates and view its COVID safety handbook, visit vashonsd.org/Page/2517. To review the FAQ document recently sent to parents, visit tinyurl.com/bn3p7m6w.