5th and 6th grade Spokane Schools’ families get ready to transition to full-time in-person learning

SPOKANE, Wash. — Very soon, all elementary student in Spokane Public Schools will be back in class together, full-time, for the first time in more than a year.

Fifth and sixth graders will be heading back five days a week later this month. Those students are currently learning on a hybrid schedule, learning half the week from home and the other half at school.

Fifth grader Elizabeth Siela loves being at home, but she enjoys being in class even more. She’s seen both the ups and downs of hybrid learning.

“It’s kind of fun because sometimes you get to sleep in or something like that, and you get to stay home,” she said. “For me, I like learning in school better, and it’s easier for me.”

Starting April 28th, she’ll be able to spend every day in school – at least that’s the goal.

Spokane Public Schools says it’s still figuring out some details.

“It’s going to be contingent on some additional plans that need to take place related to logistics, furniture, as well as additional conversations with the Spokane Education Association,” said Superintendent Adam Swinyard.

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Since the Washington Department of Health says three feet of social distancing in classrooms is safe, desks can be moved closer together. That means more students can be in class again.

There wasn’t enough in rooms to fit everyone in classes in 7th through 12th grade.

While the change is being made for 5th and 6th graders, students in middle and high school are left waiting a little longer.

students in grades 7th through 12th are not in specific groups like elementary students. Middle and high schoolers have to go to different classes with different students, which makes it a little more difficult.

The Department of Health recommends keeping secondary grade levels six feet apart in classrooms if COVID community transmission is high. That threshold is 200 cases per 100,000 people over a two week period.

As of April 15, Spokane County is currently seeing 243 cases per 100,000 people.

“Our commitment… has been to follow the safety guidelines in their entirety. Never at any point to pick and choose which guidelines we should follow,” Swinyard said.

It’s been a logistical challenge for the district in bringing more kids in for full-time in-person learning.

Because students had to be six feet apart, schools couldn’t use tables they normally do for students to sit in. Those tables would normally have two students assigned to them. So, they’ve had to switch to individual desks, which had to be pulled from other classrooms.

This resulted in the school district having to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in buying new desks as they try to figure out configurations for older grade levels.

So, the return to full-time in-person learning for middle and high school students remains up in the air. There are only a few months left of school, so one question that comes up: When is it feasible to bring those students back full-time, if at all?

Swinyard says he knows this school year alone held many changes, affecting students and families.

“There’s definitely an awareness of what that potential impact might be. And, we anticipate that will be part of our conversations moving forward, is the impact of transitions versus the amount of time that’s left in the school year,” Swinyard said.

He says they’ll continue to listen to health officials as well as watch community case counts moving forward.