COURTESY FILE PHOTO, Kent School District

COURTESY FILE PHOTO, Kent School District

Kent School District plans to stay with in-person learning

Goal remains to keep schools open as long as enough staff is available during omicron variant surge

Several schools in the Seattle area have returned to remote learning due to COVID-19 outbreaks among staff and students but so far the Kent School District plans to keep in-person learning going.

“Based on public health reports, even with the new quarantine and isolation time changes, we anticipate that absences will remain high through the end of January,” Interim Superintendent Israel Vela said in a Jan. 11 email to district families and in a district website posting. “However, our priority is to keep schools open as long as we can provide staff to operate in-person learning safely.”

Vela said the record number of COVID cases in King County has significantly impacted the district as the omicron variant continues to surge.

“Since learning has resumed after our winter break, we have experienced high absence rates among staff in labor groups and students across all schools,” Vela said. “Yet, our fantastic team continues to work together to keep our schools operating amidst this surge despite last week’s wintry weather.”

Schools across the nation face similar issues as officials determine how to navigate the pandemic, Vela said. He added the district can transition to remote learning due to a COVID-19 closure at a school or districtwide after working out an agreement last fall with the Kent Education Association (the teachers union). But that’s not the path the district wants to take.

“A school or districtwide pivot to remote learning impacts not only all of our labor partners, but remote learning inequitably impacts our students and families,” Vela said. “For these reasons, we will continue to do all we can to keep our schools open for safe and healthy in-person learning for our students.”

Vela said the district will continue to follow Public Health – Seattle & King County guidance, track positive cases, close classrooms working with public health, and minimize the spread of COVID in schools by following strict COVID safety protocols while supporting student learning and well-being.

In addition, the district is adding COVID testing sites and times, deploying central office staff to schools as available, and looking into additional vaccination clinics to increase student and community vaccination rates.

The state Department of Health (DOH) released Jan. 7 new school guidance for K-12 schools. Since the update was released, district officials have been updating documents, training staff on the new guidance,and updating the district website.

New guidance

• Students and staff who are not fully vaccinated and who have had close contact with someone with COVID-19 need to quarantine for at least 5 days after their last close contact exposure, get tested at least 5 days after they last had close contact with someone with COVID-19, and wear a mask at home, in school including in extracurricular activities, and in public for the next 5 days.

• Students ages 5-17 years and adults who have completed their COVID-19 vaccines, and adults who are vaccinated and have received their booster shot do not need to quarantine after exposure but should watch for symptoms until 10 days after the last contact with someone with COVID, get tested at least 5 days after they last had close contact with someone with COVID-19, and wear a mask at home, in school including in extracurricular activities, and in public.

• Staff and students who tested positive for COVID-19 or have symptoms, regardless of vaccination status, need to isolate for at least 5 days, and in some cases, longer. Isolation ends after 5 full days if you are fever-free for 24 hours or five full days after a positive test if you are symptom-free. You will need to continue to wear a mask for an additional 5 days after your quarantine is finished at home, in school including in extracurricular activities, and in public.

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