Friday, May 7, 2021

School Operations Update 5.7.21

 Toledo Schools remain in regular order Monday through Thursday with no plans to return to hybrid or remote. Students are benefiting from increased in-person instruction time and no cases of COVID have been documented in our schools since March. We continue to social distance, mask and practice hand hygiene as more people in our county are choosing to get vaccinated.

We are still hopeful that we will be able to provide a "Summer to Remember" program in the last two weeks of July. This recreationally-focus program would get kids together for socializing, learning and enjoyment. Watch for more information on this event coming soon.

Most districts in Washington are experiencing a shortage of bus drivers. Toledo is no exception. Because of this, we will be continuing a staggered start for school next year. By doing so, we will keep route times under 1 hour, prevent bus overcrowding and reduce bus behavior problems. Next year's school hours will be:

School

Drop off

Class starts

Dismissal

TES

7:40

8:00

2:30

TMS

8:40

8:50

3:20

THS

8:50

9:00

3:30

Our thanks to everyone who participated in the recent survey that went out. 

Commencement for Cowlitz Prairie Academy will be on June 11 and THS will be on June 12.  Both schools will observe in-person events with reduced occupancy. Consult your student's school for details on these important events.

Friday, April 30, 2021

School Operations Update 4.30.21

 Return to Regular Order

TES and TMS returned to in-person instruction full time Monday through Thursday this week. Thanks to a relaxation of the 6' distancing rule, we are now able to serve all of our students in-person. We will continue to have remote instruction on Fridays to accommodate our remote-only students and to allow for staff to clean buildings. 

Athletics continue with season 2 (spring sports) wrapping up their post season and season 3 (winter sports) beginning practice and competitions. We are still searching for people to assist with athletics, but our coaches have been tremendous in creating opportunities for our athletes to make memories and realize goals.

All of this has had a positive effect on kids. We hope that you're seeing an improvement in mood at home that we're seeing at school. Kids are genuinely glad to get back to school activities and learning as well as competing with their friends.

Phase 3

The progress we've made in returning to regular order is contingent upon remaining in phase 3 of the Healthy Washington Plan. Lewis County is currently at 201.9 new cases per 100,000 and new hospitalizations are above 5. Both of these are above the limits to be in phase 3. The State will evaluate our metrics on Monday May 4. Any change will take place on Friday May 7. While we hope that we'll remain in phase 3, we are preparing ourselves in the event that we are returned to phase 2. The biggest impact of the shift will be that indoor competitions will be suspended for athletics.

Lewis County Superintendents are encouraging the Governor and Dept. of Health to consider allowing competitions in phase 2 without spectators. We believe that the source of increased spread of the virus is not associated with school activities and that our kids really need school and activities. 

We are counting on everyone in our county to get vaccinated and continue working against the virus with masks, hand hygiene and distance. Please help us keep our schools and athletics open.

 

Friday, April 23, 2021

School Operations Update 4.23.21

 Regular Order and the Threats to It

On Monday, all schools will return to full-day in-person instruction Monday through Thursday. This day has been a long time coming and I know that everyone is looking forward to it. There are so many signs that things may be returning to regular order. We've had great weather recently and we're all feeling a little relief from this past year.

However, you only need to look one county south to see that COVID is still with us. Cowlitz, Pierce and Whitman Counties were all downgraded to Phase 2 of the Governor's Healthy Washington Plan in the past week. This means that athletics returns to practice-only (no games) and physical distance at school returns to 6'. I read last night that Pierce County may be downgraded again to phase 1 in the coming weeks.

Lewis County Public Health and Social Services reported on Wednesday that Lewis County is in danger of being downgraded on May 3 when the next metrics review takes place. The county is currently at 220 new cases per 100,000 residents (200 is the maximum number over 2 weeks for Phase 3) and 8.7 hospitalizations (5 is the maximum for Phase 3). (April 21 Chronicle)  

Dr. Kevin Caserta is the site administrator for Providence Centralia and chief medical officer for Providence in Southwest Washington. He calls on all of us to do our part to fight the virus. He notes the increase in cases that he's seeing and calls on us to get vaccinated and continue masking, distancing and hand hygiene. Cases are up all over the U.S. (April 21 Chronicle)

Here's how you can help. If you haven't been vaccinated, please do so. If your children 16-18 haven't been vaccinated, consider getting them vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine. In addition to not getting sick, vaccinated people do not need to quarantine if they are close contacts. 


The reduction in social distancing recommendations is what has allowed us to return to school. This is predicated on keeping cases and hospitalizations low. It would be so sad if we needed to return to hybrid modes of instruction. Our kids need to be in school and we need to beat this virus. I have heard from so many parents that this is what their children are looking forward to. I've heard from so many in our community that athletics have made a huge difference in the well-being of their kids. As educators, we know that the best place for kids is in school with their friends and staff. Please do your part. 

Friday, April 16, 2021

School Operations Update 4.16.21

Preparations

The TSD Response Team met today to review our preparations for a return to regular order on April 26. As a reminder, all K-12 students will return to in-person instruction for full days Monday through Thursday on that date. Students who elect to remain in remote instruction will be able to continue if they choose.

We're expecting most of our furniture to arrive in time for opening and we have temporary solutions while we wait for the rest. Our transportation and food services are looking forward to the change and our building staff is excited to be working with all students together. 

We are currently needing an additional custodian so that we can accommodate the increased load and continue to maintain safety in the buildings. If you or someone you know is interested, please go to this link

Starting a new phase of learning is like having another "first day of school", so you can anticipate all of the nervousness and glitches that come with the beginning of new ways of doing things. Please continue to be flexible with your children and staff as we all adjust to a new system (again!)

Athletics

Lewis County is currently in phase 3. Cowlitz County is in phase 2. This means that if we play a team from Cowlitz County, we will need to observe the phase 2 protocols for the specific sport- even though we may be playing at home. This is a WIAA regulation. In addition, wrestling and basketball isn't available for phase 2 counties, so those sports won't compete.

We are hopeful that Lewis County will continue to be in phase 3. We narrowly avoided a rollback this week as our case numbers have increased. Everyone who is 16 or older is currently eligible for the vaccine. We encourage you to get vaccinated and to maintain masking and distancing so that we can continue to return to regular order without a  rollback.

Mascot

We are continuing to explore whether there is some way that the exception in the recent legislation regarding Native American mascots applies to Toledo. So far, it does not look promising. The Cowlitz Tribe has trust lands, but they are in Clark County, so there is no connection to the district or Lewis County. Even though the tribe owns property in the district, the lands aren't in the trust. 

We continue to work with the Cowlitz Indian Tribal Council and staff to explore this issue. When the Governor signs the legislation, we'll be in conversation with the Office of Native Education at OSPI. While these are possibilities, I believe that we should begin coming to terms with a change to our mascot and branding.

Friday, April 9, 2021

School Operations Update 4.9.21

 What's New?

On Monday 4/5, the board of directors voted to return to in-person instruction for all students Monday through Thursday for full days on April 26. This means that all K-8 students will attend school all day in-person beginning on that day. They will join the THS students in this and all will attend Monday through Thursday with Fridays being a remote learning day to serve those who continue with remote-only instruction and to allow staff to clean and disinfect the building.

We will continue to use daily attestations and temperature checks, masks and hand hygiene. Physical distance has been reduced to 3' effective immediately. While we are returning to in-person instruction, we remain committed to safety and the protection of students and staff. As we begin to return to more in-person instruction, Lewis County COVID cases are again increasing. On April 15, all Washingtonians 16 and over will be eligible for a vaccine. We encourage all those eligible to get vaccinated so that we can continue our return to regular order.

As with all big changes, we  collaborate closely with our union representatives to make sure that our decisions do not negatively impact their wages, hours or working conditions. In addition, we await delivery of furniture that will be needed to accommodate students at meal times outdoors. For both of these reasons, we requested a delay until April 26. This date is not uncommon in our region for a return. For example, Battle Ground will return to in-person instruction on that date as well.

At the high school, the new Commons will be available for student use on Monday for meals. This will allow us to have students spread out at meal times and maintain 6' of distance. The kitchen is still under construction and also awaits permitting, so we will continue to prepare THS meals at TES. A few other areas of the new school will come on line toward the end of the month.
Artist's Rendering (tables won't float)

Photograph of the built space 4.9.21


Commencement is planned to be held in the stadium this year to maximize the number of people who can attend. Watch for more information on this important event. 

Friday, April 2, 2021

Friday Update 4.2.21

 Regular Order

We will share our reopening plan with the board at a 6 p.m. meeting on Monday April 5. This will be a videoconference meeting and open to the public. (Meeting announcement will be posted later today). In short, our plan recommends returning to regular order with the new 3' distance, masks and hand hygiene on April 26. This time frame will give us time to receive additional furniture, meet with our unions to negotiate the impact of these new plans and for parents to make needed changes to their schedules and daycare arrangements. A full announcement of plans will be made following the board's decision on our plan. For more on how we got here, read yesterday's FAQ posted in this blog.

Summer Program

We are planning to provide two weeks of recreational summer programming for all students K-12 during the final two weeks of July. We are currently searching for a coordinator for this program. We are tentatively planning day trips to places like the Air and Space Museum, Mt. Rainier, Mt. St Helens, the local fish hatchery, etc. Parents will be able to choose daily rather than signing up for full weeks, so kids can pick and choose. The goal is to have each child in our district served at least once this summer by a TSD program. The outcome is to put back some of the joy that was taken from kids over the last year. While the pandemic will still be with us and we'll still need our protocols, most of our plans include outdoor activities and we won't be doing academic instruction. Exploration, exercise, excitement with friends and caring adults. We hope you'll participate.

Counseling

One of the reasons we've been so aggressive in returning to school this year is we saw the impact on mental health for our kids. Referrals to the emergency room are dramatically elevated, child obesity is on the increase and depression and anxiety complaints are elevated. All of these are attributable to reductions in in-person instruction at school.

To address these concerns, we will be increasing our counseling staff next year. Thanks to federal funds, we will be able to place a full-time school counselor at TES and TMS next year. In addition, we'll provide a Social Interventionist (classified staff counselor) to assist. These folks will join our contracted therapist and our THS counselor. 

The pandemic has been an adverse childhood experience with long lasting effects. We want to be sure that students have the supports they need in order to recover and thrive as we work to provide them with opportunities and meaningful experiences.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Reopening FAQ 4.1.21

There is some misinformation circulating about TSD's response to the Governor's willingness to allow reduced social distancing. The following are some of the questions we have been getting and what we have been doing and are continuing to do to maximize in-person instruction. Our goal is and has always been to bring all students back to in-person instruction as quickly and safely as possible. While it may appear that nothing is going on to bring kids back, we have been very busy behind the scenes during the past two weeks in preparations.

Why isn't Toledo going back to school full time like so many other schools? I serve on the Health Dept. advisory workgroup with three other superintendents, Lewis County Public Health and physicians from NW Pediatrics. Because of our work, Lewis County is the most aggressive in the state in terms of return to in-person instruction. On March 17 in our meeting, Dr. Huang from the workgroup shared the research out of Massachusetts that indicated 3' was an acceptable safety margin. That day, Toledo began working on plans to increase in-person instruction in anticipation of a change in CDC guidance that came on March 19. The change from 6' to 3' gave us hope that we'd be able to return students to school in regular order. The Governor's announcement came on March 25- seven days ago. Our plans are nearly complete and will be shared with the board at a special meeting on April 5 at 6 p.m. so that they can make a decision about implementation of those plans.

Why has it taken so long to create these plans? The Governor's indication that schools can reopen with 3' of distance did not include the Washington Department of Health's guidance that staff must remain 6' away and that students must maintain 6' during meal times. This was a surprise to us and has forced us to adjust the plans that we were working on. In addition, we need to negotiate the impact of our plans with our labor unions. This also takes time. Finally, all of these plans have to be tested against all of the other systems (cleaning and disinfecting, transportation, food, athletics, activities) to be sure that the new plans won't create unintended consequences.

Some school districts like Kelso and Battle Ground are having students eat meals out of their laps in chairs or outside. Some have rented pavilion tents and patio heaters. We don't think it is right for our kids to eat out of their laps, so Toledo will be purchasing additional cafeteria tables and setting them up outdoors in the covered play areas at TES and TMS. At THS, we will be getting the new cafeteria tables early (May 16) and renting a pavilion tent so that distance can be maintained. If conditions indicate, we are prepared to provide patio heaters as well.

We will need to order furniture to allow us to reconfigure classrooms to support more students and maximize space. Delivery of this furniture will take some time and will need to be assembled. We will be calling on our community to help us with this effort as our maintenance and operations staff is already stretched thin.

Why can't we return 5 days each week? We have students who are choosing to learn remotely due to health and safety concerns. We also have students who are exposed to COVID and need to quarantine for two weeks. Serving these students requires teachers to prepare and deliver lessons for a week at a time. Those preparations are done on Fridays. We will continue to have Friday remote days for the remainder of this school year. Next  year, students will need to be on campus and we will have 5-days of  in-person learning. 

When will kids start coming back full time? Grades 9-12 have been in school full time (4 days) since March 1. We will be announcing firm dates when we've completed our plans and the board has approved them. Our goal is to return students before the end of the month. 

Why won't you let kids come back to school right now? We have an obligation to our students, families, staff and community to provide the best and safest educational experiences possible. We take pride in our ability to maximize in-person instruction and we will be returning kids to more in-person instruction when we have properly planned and arranged for that to happen. We want to do this right, not just right now.

Toledo has always been very thoughtful and deliberate in our planning.  This is why we haven't had to close our schools due to a COVID outbreak. This is why 90% of our students receive some in-person instruction every day while the state average is 51%. When we put this new plan in place, we don't want to have to backtrack because we missed a step or we have an outbreak.

Chris Rust
Superintendent