L-R: Riley Lynch, 11, and his brother Kody Lynch, 8, both Rainier Elementary School students, perform online school studies on Tuesday, Sept. 8, as their mom Kerra Lynch-Arland, 40, looks on from her own computer at their home in Rainier.

Students at Rainier Elementary School who recently returned to a hybrid learning model mixing online and in-person instruction will now be returning to distanced learning, a letter from Superintendent Bryon Bahr read on Thursday, Oct. 29.

The decision was based around requirements that went into place when Thurston County entered the “high” risk transmission rate on Oct. 23. The new guidance from the state Department of Health caps classroom sizes at five students and only allows in-person teaching for the highest needs students, Bahr wrote.

“For our elementary students, we cannot make this requirement of five students work with our staffing and the capacity to provide excellent service with our amazing teaching and support staff,” Bahr wrote. “In order to comply with this requirement and provide a safe learning and working environment, I have made the difficult decision to return our elementary school to distance learning.”

According to the Department of Health, Thurston County is reporting a transmission rate of 88.9 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people over the last 14 days.

Bahr’s letter comes shortly after him and other public school superintendents received a letter from Health Officer Dr. Dimyana Abdelmalek recommending an extension on a pause on returning additional students to hybrid learning until Nov. 6 due to high COVID-19 caseloads.

Both the pause and Bahr’s decision to go back to distanced learning stem from an increase in new COVID-19 cases that has affected the county over the last month. The county last week reported its highest-ever weekly count of new diagnoses.

To date, Bahr wrote, no students or staff have been confirmed to have the virus.

“We created and implemented a plan that kept our students and staff safe while providing quality in-person education. We know that we can do this model well and we are incredibly proud of your children as we saw them working so hard in classes weekly. Unfortunately, the number of cases in the county does not appear to be slowing down anytime soon,” he wrote.

Bahr also wrote that Thurston County Public Health and Social Services is anticipating a continued rise in new infections and that, on Nov. 6, the county is planning to recommend all school districts return to full distanced learning.

Abdelmalek has not said that or mentioned that in her letters, instead noting that they’ll continue to look at the transmission rates over the next week.

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