by Erin Okuno
Starting school in 2021 will be a different experience than 2020, when almost all the schools in the country were remote/distance learning. This week, Seattle Public School (SPS) students are returning to classrooms, some for the first time in over a year and a half.
To help families and students prepare for the new school year, I asked educators to share advice and thoughts they want parents and caregivers to know as we head back to school with COVID-19 still prevalent.
Continue reading Starting School as Strong as We Can: Advice and Thoughts From Educators
by Mark Van Streefkerk
What is your favorite family recipe? Can you remember one of the kindest things someone ever did for you? Can you tell a family story through rap lyrics? What are some things that make you, you? These are some examples of prompts from this year’s Summer of Learning program from the Seattle Public Library (SPL). The SPL’s flagship summer program for kids is now an impressive 102 years old, and this year’s program has been carefully crafted in partnership with the African American Writers’ Alliance and the Bureau of Fearless Ideas. To participate, swing by any of the SPL branches currently open for in-person or curbside service to grab your own poster-sized Summer of Learning flyer, available in eight languages. The posters are filled with creative prompts, coloring and drawing activities, and plenty of opportunities to explore, create, and share the stories that make up your world.
Continue reading SPL’s Summer of Learning Program Wants to Know, ‘What’s Your Story?’
by Ari Robin McKenna
As many students receiving special education services in what Seattle Public Schools (SPS) calls “intensive pathways” returned to in-person learning in early April, some local educators find themselves questioning whether their students will have improved opportunities for inclusion, or if the opposite is true. Supported by a federal law, which states that all students should learn in the “least restrictive environment,” inclusion requires that students with disabilities spend as much time as possible learning with their peers who do not receive special education services. While much attention has been focused on the myriad needs of students returning to hybrid, in-person learning, these teachers are concerned that inclusion of students with disabilities will be overlooked, and their need to be included will be unmet.
During the pandemic, one terrible example of exclusion was discovered in SPS at View Ridge Elementary School. According to a story by KUOW, the principal, assistant principal, and other staff members seem to have thought the least restrictive environment for an 8-year-old Black boy named Jaleel was to lock him in a caged play area for hours at a time where he sometimes ate while sitting on the floor. Though state law requires any instance of “restraint and isolation” to be reported, there was no paper trail, and while Jaleel’s case may or may not be an isolated event, it brought to the fore existing questions about whether there was a tendency to exclude BIPOC students — and particularly Black students — receiving special education services in SPS.
Continue reading SPS Educators Confront Issues of Race and Disability as Students Return to Schools
by Ari Robin McKenna
On Monday afternoon earlier this week, as clouds began to block the sun, the temperature dove from its high of 48 degrees Fahrenheit. Extension cords of various colors trailed out of the heated, fortress-like Franklin High School (FHS) building, built in 1912, and made their way through the bushes and across walkways to where teachers, bundled up, sat at fold-out tables on their laptops, attending virtual meetings. A couple of them appeared to be shivering.
Continue reading Why Franklin High School Teachers Spent the Last Two and Half Days Outside
by Ari Robin McKenna
In a general membership meeting of the Highline Education Association (HEA) Monday night, teachers voted to begin a phased return to in-person learning for elementary students beginning with “Pre-K, kindergarten, grade 1, and students served in Intensive Academic Center (IAC) K–12” on March 11, and ending with grade 4 and grade 5 on April 1. A week earlier, the union’s general membership had voted to delay the return to in-person learning until April 19.
This about-face follows an intense, three days last week in which Highline Public School (HPS) Superintendent Susan Enfield announced she would be enlisting as a substitute teacher, a letter sent from HPS Human Resources to teachers who had not been granted remote teaching placement threatened them with “progressive discipline” for not returning to work, and a parent petition circulated claiming a “profound lack of confidence” in Enfield and the HPS school board. It also follows a weekend of further bargaining where “supplemental measures” to the existing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two sides were developed.
Continue reading Highline Teachers Approve March 11 Return, Seattle Begins Limited In-Class Learning March 29
by Ari Robin McKenna
A few weeks ago, many members of the tight-knit staff of Campbell Hill Elementary School convened online. They felt that their community didn’t have enough information to make a fully informed decision about whether or not to send their kids back into school buildings as part of Renton School District’s (RSD) phased return to hybrid learning beginning March 3. Decisions about when and how to return to classroom instruction are especially charged in the Skyway neighborhood, where Campbell Hill is located. It is both historically underinvested in and also has higher rates of COVID-19 infections than more affluent areas of King County. The potential of another COVID-19 spike and the resulting community death toll weigh heavily on the district’s decision to return, as do concerns about upended classes and the “learning drift” of breaking away from the virtual educational experience some teachers have worked so hard to provide.
Continue reading After Learning Details, Families Turn Away From In-Person Learning at Skyway School
by Carolyn Bick
Washington State has expanded the number of days school districts may offer in-person learning, but teachers will not be moved into earlier phases of vaccination, Gov. Jay Inslee said in a press conference on Feb. 16. Inslee did not immediately provide details on the number of days included in the increase. The State’s rationale for encouraging in-person learning without ensuring that all teachers are vaccinated is that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not included vaccinating teachers in its base-level guidance that can help to determine whether in-person learning is safe. The State will allow parents to keep their children on remote learning plans, if they so choose.
In his announcement, Inslee pointed to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recently updated publication regarding operational strategy for schools to open for in-person learning. He said that the CDC’s guidance “broadly aligns” with the State’s suggestions and that the CDC has “also made very clear that mass vaccination of our teachers is not a prerequisite to going back to school.”
In its guidance, the CDC also says that “[t]he following public health efforts provide additional layers of COVID-19 prevention in schools” and lists “[t]esting to identify individuals with a SARS-CoV-2 infection to limit transmission and outbreaks” and “[v]accination for teachers, staff, and in communities as soon as supply allows.”
Continue reading State Officials Push School Reopening Plan, Drawing on Data From Studies of Predominantly White Student Groups in Handful of U.S. Studies
by Ari Robin McKenna
This week, the Seattle Public School (SPS) District and the Seattle Education Association (SEA) resumed bargaining about when the return to in-person education for pre-K to first grade — as well as students enrolled in moderate to intensive special education service pathways — will happen and what it will look like. In a pandemic month that also featured a failed coup and the inauguration of our country’s first Black, Asian, and female vice president, SPS has already seen a school board member abruptly resign and the staff of a South End elementary school announce that they will refuse to return to in-person learning until it’s safe for their community to do so. With pressure mounting to reopen SPS as soon as possible and bargaining already strained, there is mounting evidence that suggests white families stand to benefit more and that their communities will face fewer impacts from a return to in-person learning.
In a Facebook message posted on Jan. 7, SPS board representative Eden Mack announced her resignation. Mack, who represents District 4 (which includes the neighborhoods of Magnolia, Queen Anne, and Southern Ballard) mentioned a “dysfunctional culture” and also stated, “The massive gap between the true cost of providing basic education in an urban school district and what the State provides is not imaginary.” Mack then went on to ask the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) of the state of Washington for an “intervention.”
Continue reading As Seattle Public Schools Negotiates Some In-Person Classes Resuming, Equity Questions Loom