A look inside an East Valley school as the superintendent lays out plans

SPOKANE VALLEY,  Wash. – School staff and work groups are working continuously to figure out how to bring students back safely in the fall.

“How do you set up a classroom that is going to engage children in a way that’s meaningful? In a way that makes them comfortable and feel happy about being in school?” said Kelly Shea, the superintendent with the East Valley School District.

Those are the difficult questions he asks himself and many others as they all try to figure out what school will look like.

The biggest challenge in figuring out plans is keeping students and staff safe.

“We believe that we need to have face-to-face instruction. We need to have the contact time with our students, but with the six-foot social distance rule, we’re not going to be able to fit all of our kids in on the same time, on the same day,” Shea said.

Few classrooms inside Trent Elementary are set up right now. Staff were figuring out what class would look like with desks spaced six feet apart.

At Trent Elementary, they were able to fit between 16 and 18 kids in a room. There are normally about 26 kids in a third or fourth grade room.

Some items had to be removed that are normally in a classroom in order to maximize space.

“Over the years, as we try to create an environment that is warm and friendly for children, we’ve created things like primary teachers having circle time,” Shea said, adding that some teachers had comfortable couches or rocking chairs in their room.

Removing those items, especially in a kindergarten, will take away that “warm and friendly” feeling Shea mentioned.

Now it’ll just be desks, students and teachers. In the earlier grades like kindergarten, teachers used tables to put students next to each other so they can easily work with one another. That will have to be taken away.

“I’m not certain that we have enough desks to give every child in the district their own. We have to figure out where to store all this furniture that we’re removing from classrooms in order to increase the capacity for getting as many kids in a room as we can,” he said.

It’s a possible that the East Valley School District will be alternating schedules for elementary students.

Another option would be splitting up students into another classroom, which would mean hiring more teachers and needing to find that extra space.

“Funding for anything additional is going to be extremely difficult right now. The whole COVID response is costing us additional funds, things like PPE,” Shea continued. “So, adding staff at a time where we are expecting to have budget reductions at some point during the year, or for sure for next year, we don’t know how we would fund additional staff.”

Shea said they are looking at alternating schedules for middle and high school students as well.

Lunch could also be eaten in classrooms, too, with staff bringing kids the food.

Shea said they have work groups every week trying to figure out these details.

“We’ve got to find the balance between doing what we need to do for our students and at the same time, making sure we’re ensuring the health and safety of everyone. That’s kids and adults,” he said.

School districts now have less than a month to submit plans to the state before reopening in the fall. The start of the school year is September 2. Plans should be given to the Washington State of Superintendent of Public Instruction by August 19 at the latest.

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