Parents all across Washington state are waiting in anticipation for their children to return to in-person classes, though perhaps no group more fervently than parents at Rainier School District.
“The (parents) I am around are feeling the same frustrations,” said Tasha Landram, 41, a mother of three who recently submitted a nine-page letter to the school board voicing her frustration over the recent return to distanced learning.
Frustrations started mounting on Oct. 29 when Rainier Superintendent Bryon Bahr announced the district would return to full remote learning due to state Department of Health teaching requirements brought on by the county’s increasing COVID-19 caseloads.
The district’s K-2nd grade students were back in class for just days when this call was made.
Those frustrations were again compounded a week later when Health Officer Dr. Dimyana Abdelmalek recommended all schools return to distanced learning until January.
But as the county and state go back into intensified social distancing, some Rainier parents argue that caseloads locally are small enough that the school district should be allowed to operate with more independence.
A school board meeting set for Wednesday, Nov. 18, was expected to get a large turnout from parents, though the meeting occurred after the Nisqually Valley News’s Tuesday morning deadline.
“Our town population is smaller than almost every high school in Thurston County. We’re such a small community, and our school district and superintendent needs to have the autonomy to make decisions instead of falling under the larger blanket of regulations,” Landram said.
According to a weekly report from Thurston County Public Health and Social Services published Nov. 10, only 33 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the Rainier ZIP code (98576) since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic started in March.
That number is about five times smaller than what’s been reported in the nearby Yelm ZIP code.
Despite that, community transmission of the virus remains very high in Thurston County, with Public Health consistently reporting record-high caseloads of new diagnoses.
“Since Dr. Abdelmalek was neither elected, nor hired by anyone in this district, I respectfully ask that you consider these ‘second opinions’ as you defer your decision making regarding this deeply impactful decision,” Landram wrote.
Landram told the Nisqually Valley News that she’d like to hear from Bahr about what they could do to support him and the school district during this time while also looking to hopefully reopen on their own merits.
Julia Black, 39, of Rainier, has two children in school. One is a high school junior and the other is a third grader with special needs.
Most of the challenges her family has faced revolve around the online work her special needs child does, she said.
They’ve been having to participate in online learning since September and only recently were allowed to go back in in-person instruction. It’s been difficult to get him to sit still and do his work, she said.
Black agreed with Landram, saying she believes their kids should be allowed to go back.
“They should be allowed to be normal kids and get to be around their friends,” she said.
Bahr told the Nisqually Valley News he’s been hearing patches of frustration from parents and noted that his staff are attempting to work diligently to deliver the best education they can during this tough time.
“We all want kids back face to face. We know that’s the best way for kids to learn, and we’re trying,” he said, adding later: “With the numbers rising and the recommendations from the health departments, we decided to listen to the experts.”
Bahr added that they’re looking forward to finding further solutions and building upon their distance learning programs in upcoming school board meetings.