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FILE PHOTO — Brian Wharton, superintendent of Yelm Community Schools, reads the book "Should I Share My Ice Cream?" by Mo Willems to fifth graders on Friday, Feb. 28, at Southworth Elementary School, just weeks before the closure of schools due to COVID-19. 

Since the school closure was ordered across Washington state on March 13, our staff has passionately wanted to reconnect with students and families in person. Over the past few weeks, the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, the state Department of Health and the Department of Labor and Industries have been publishing both regulations and guidance about how all districts can plan for the reopening of schools in the fall. Our district is working with great energy to create our plan for school in the fall.

I know everyone hears the word “reopening” with great enthusiasm. However, meeting all the regulations and guidance will impact our school operations compared to the old “normal.” As a larger school system, the regulations and guidance are more difficult to meet and will prevent us and our neighboring districts from returning to normal operations.

Physical distancing — Each district is required to plan for 6 feet of distance between students in classrooms. In a typical classroom, that requirement would allow for approximately 14 people. For the most part, this regulation would allow us to serve half of our students at one time.

Face coverings — Each district will have to meet the requirement for face coverings, adults and students, while at school. There are some legal exemptions and opportunities throughout the day to take a quick break from the face covering.

Health screening — Each district will have to create a plan to complete health checks of students and staff daily. We believe protocols will allow parents and staff to screen prior to coming onsite.

Hygiene and cleaning — Each district will have to plan for increased hand-washing or sanitizing, and will increase cleaning of surfaces, door handles and equipment.

If we are not able to bring every student on to campus each day, our reopening plan will feature numerous changes and improvements compared to what students experienced last spring.

• We will return to a traditional grading format.

• We will return to daily attendance recording, regardless of in person or remote environment.

• Our teachers will plan for full daily engagement including instruction and guided work time for students.

• Our district will plan for a 180-day student calendar and will meet the state’s requirements for instructional hours.

• All students in grades 3-12 will be issued a Chromebook to be carried to and from school. This will allow all students to access and complete work each week.

• Yelm Community Schools will continue to serve students whose family or medical status results in the need to stay at home. We will serve these students and families in an online capacity.

Yes, schools across the state will open in some fashion this fall. It will look and feel different. We will have students on campus, and we will continue to serve students through distance learning. Our commitment has not changed. We will provide exceptional learning opportunities for students that prepares them well for their future. When conditions allow, we will push toward our traditional school operations. We truly want all our students at school every day and will work to that goal while protecting the health of students and staff.

Our school board will be asked to approve our return to school plans in late July. We will be sending our parents regular updates throughout the summer.

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Brian Wharton is superintendent of Yelm Community Schools.

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