Students learning virtually still wait for in-person return; what school districts are planning

SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash. – Winter break starts Monday for kids across the Spokane area, but what happens after the new year is still not clear.

With districts phasing in more students, then stopping that altogether, families aren’t sure how to plan ahead.

Some are upset that some kids are back in school while others aren’t.

That’s the case for Xander Merkley, a fourth grader in the Central Valley School District. He’s been stuck at home learning online while his three other siblings get to go to school in person.

“We have a hard time understanding why the other kids get to go back and yet he still has to wait. That’s been a real big struggle for him,” said Sharon Merkley of her son Xander.

Just months ago, her home was filled with four kids learning virtually. Now, Xander’s the only one left.

Xander has been struggling with real-time distance learning, so he switched to the self-paced option the district offers. It’s been a little better for him, but he’d still rather be back in class.

“It’s just kind of depressing because they get to go back to school and I don’t,” he said.

Third graders in the CVSD went back about a month ago. The district had been phasing students in every two weeks, but stopped after third graders.

“He has a hard time and he watches his brothers and sister go to school every day. They get up, get ready to go, they get to go play with their friends. They get to have that,” Sharon said.

So, when will fourth graders and other graders get to head back to the classroom?

CVSD said it actually had a goal of bringing fourth graders back on November 30.

“I was super excited because everybody else has gone back and so I was like ‘Yes,’ and then like a few days before we were supposed to go back, we were told that ‘Nope, you’re not going back yet,’ and I was like ‘Why?'” Xander questioned.

The Spokane Regional Health District asked school districts to press pause on phasing students in due to skyrocketing COVID-19 case numbers.

With some students already back in the classroom, parents want to know why schools haven’t brought more back for in-person learning.

SRHD offered this statement in response:

“We need to be careful and methodical when making recommendations for our schools. We are currently experiencing a community-wide surge that is having a direct impact on the county’s cases per capita, hospitalizations, ability of case and contract tracing to successfully contain the spread, test positivity rates, and mortality rates. We have to take this data into consideration along with school-specific data and evidence. No single metric provides enough context to properly inform these complicated decisions.”

Xander isn’t the only one waiting, either.

The Central Valley School District is waiting for health district and school board approval for the returning date of fourth graders and other grades.

The West Valley School District released plans for fourth and fifth graders to come back mid-Janaury.

Spokane Public Schools had not laid out a specific timeline for more returns, but a school board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, and reopening plans will be discussed.

As for Xander, he’s getting filled with hope again, getting updates from his teacher on when he can go back. He’s hoping sooner rather than later.