Teachers, administrators, other school staff and volunteers — all seeming to be smiling beneath their masks — greeted returning preschool and kindergarten students who arrived at Chautauqua on Monday morning, as the district began its rollout of hybrid education.
In an email to district parents, Slade McSheehy marked the milestone, noting that the district had moved to distance learning on March 13, 2020. At that time, he said, he thought that students would come back into the building in a little more than a month.
Now, a year into the pandemic, that return is finally starting in two-week increments, with Monday’s arrival of the tiniest students set to be followed by those in grades 1 to 3 on March 15. Grades 4 and 5 are set to return on March 29. If health metrics established by the Department of Health allow, grades 6 to 12 could also return to hybrid learning on April 16.
Elementary-aged students will spend four half-days a week at the school, followed by distance learning the rest of the time. More than a third of Chautauqua’s students have opted to remain in distance learning only, though.
McSheehy said that he would remember what happened on Monday for a long time.
“We saw students getting off the bus, out of their family’s cars, and lining up for school with their masks on and socially distanced,” he said. “I’m very proud of our staff who have made significant efforts to make our classrooms and schools a safe place for learning.”
McSheehy also reported other good news in his email, saying that approximately 45 school staff members had received vaccinations on Saturday at SeaMar Clinic.
The vaccinations were made possible through a confluence of 11th-hour luck and swift public health coordination.
Those vaccinated at SeaMar included teachers set to return to the classroom in coming weeks, para-educators currently working with at-risk students, as well as custodial and some administrative staff.
According to Kerry Barnes, administrator at Vashon’s SeaMar clinic, approximately 99 of SeaMar’s scarce doses of the Pfizer vaccine were in danger of timing out on Saturday, and she was instructed by a senior vice-president at SeaMar to extend vaccination outside of the 65+ age group that is currently prioritized in Washington.
“We don’t waste doses, and so we opened it up to essential workers and whoever else was eligible that day,” she said, adding that this has been a common practice at other healthcare facilities in Washington when doses are in danger of being discarded.
On so, last Saturday morning, Barnes reached out to Rick Wallace, manager of Vashon’s Emergency Operations Center, to tell him the news that vaccinations would be available for essential workers. Wallace, in turn, communicated with VISD school nurse Sarah Day, who worked the phone lines to let returning staff members and those already working closely with students know about the opportunity to get a jab.
Currently, Washington is one of 22 states where teachers, as a specific group, are not prioritized for vaccinations, though some older teachers have been able to be vaccinated according to their age groups.
In recent weeks, as the district’s plans to open up hybrid education have taken shape, many community members, including parents, teachers and other staff, and members of Vashon’s Medical Reserve Corps have all expressed concerns about having unvaccinated teachers return to the classroom.