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Cafe worker Jenny Bagshaw, left, and YMS satellite lead Tina Sparks, right, hand grab-bag meals to local residents last March outside of Southworth Elementary School. 

The Yelm Community Schools district and its nine public schools will offer a partly in-person, partly online hybrid model for instruction come this fall. 

According to a newsletter published Monday, July 27, district staff announced students will attend two full days of in-person instruction and three days of online learning weekly for this upcoming school year. Under the current plan, about half of each school’s population is expected to be on campus at a time. 

The district is also offering an option for students to opt out and attend classes online five days a week with certified teachers. 

The option for online only courses closes on Wednesday, Aug. 5. More information can be found online at www.ycs.wednet.edu.

This announcement comes following a survey that was sent out to parents the week prior gauging feedback on proposed options. The current plan looks similar to what other local districts, such as North Thurston Public Schools, plan on implementing. 

“It’s a hard progression because the regulations change on an almost daily basis, the data changes on a weekly basis, and what we think we know today is completely different on a short term timeframe,” Yelm Superintendent Brian Wharton said. 

Things will feel different when students return to school this fall. In addition to required social distancing of 6 feet and face coverings, there will be large adjustments to lunches, recesses and the movement of students between class. 

Daily health screenings will be required for all people who visit Yelm Community Schools campuses, and parents will need to attest to the wellness of their students daily. 

Aside from social distancing measures, mask mandates and deep cleaning, it’s likely students and parents won’t see too stark of a change in the way bus transportation operates. 

“From a standpoint of guidance and regulation, we’re required to have kids on buses with as much separation as possible with the highest level of ventilation on buses,” Wharton said. “We’re also encouraging if you can walk to school, walk to school. If you can drop your kid off, drop your kid off.” 

The district does plan on returning to a traditional grading model this fall as well. During the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak earlier this year, grading models for public schools operating in Washington state switched to a pass-incomplete model due to the unexpected and quick turn to remote learning, which likely affected the education of some students.

Many school districts in Pierce County last week reported they’d be moving this fall back to fully distanced learning after a letter published by Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s director of health recommended schools not operate in-person due to continued spread of COVID-19. 

During a meeting last week between the eight superintendents that operate in Thurston County and Health Officer Dr. Dimyana Abdelmalek, Wharton said she told them that if the first day of school was tomorrow she would advise school districts to revert back to full remote learning. 

Wharton said Abdelmalek told them that she’s not ready at the moment to give that guidance, but noted she would if the trend of community spread continues. 

Wharton said their current hybrid plan, as per state instruction, allows them to quickly switch over to fully online or fully in-person classes if the broader health status either worsens or gets better.

“We’re planning for all three contingencies and realize that all three could show up this year,” he said. 

Wharton said the district and others are currently waiting to hear back on federal guidance to see how they will serve kids meals this fall. 

It’s possible the program could operate in either one of two fashions: Students would either pick up a certain number of days worth of lunches to eat during days of online instruction or the district would continue to operate a daily drive-by meal program similar to last year’s. 

As instructors and staff begin to return from July vacations, Wharton said they plan on sitting down with them to flesh out procedures and up-to-date requirements, especially around the masking mandate and screening methods. Wharton said staff will also work to clean constantly. 

If a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, Wharton said the district has special procedures in place to clean equipment, quarantine and activate Thurston County’s contact tracing program. 

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