After what looked like a potential in-person reopening this fall, private schools in Pierce County have been required to switch to online learning. The state order comes from the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Departments Director, Anthony L-T Chen, who instructed all schools in the area to teach remotely.
In the statement Chen released on Aug. 12, he explained that COVID-19 cases are currently too high in Pierce County, at a reported number of 1170 in the two weeks following Aug. 12. Once case activity decreases and the numbers go down, the department will allow more schools to reopen in-person.
Chen stated that he’s prepared to revise his requirement, as the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department monitors COVID-19 disease activity closely.
The statement didn’t change the plans of a number of schools in the area, as they were already anticipating a remote start. Majority being public schools due to the larger number of attending students, in contrast to private schools with fewer students.
Bellarmine Preparatory School, despite being a private school with lower numbers of students and staff, also already planned to be online.
During July, private schools in the Pierce County area like Charles Wright Academy and Annie Wright schools announced they would be reopening for in-person teaching in the fall.
Both schools issued statements on their websites after announcing their reopening; stating how safety precautions such as social distancing, mask-wearing, daily temperature checks and sanitation would all take place.
During this time, the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department released a statement where Chen only recommended that schools in the area be remote.
Susan Rice, the head of school at Charles Wright Academy, released a statement in response to Chen’s order the same day. Rice explained she’s disappointed in the requirement, as the school had already announced their reopening and mapped out how they would go about safety measures.
In a survey of Charles Wright parents asking what they would choose for the fall quarter, more than 86% of the families who answered chose an in-person option for their child(ren).
Jen Willey, the marketing and communications director of Annie Wright Schools shared in a statement that the school had plans in place if ordered to be online. Although preferring to be in person, she described the school’s online program to be second to none.
According to Brandi Ledbetter, a certified nurse’s assistant, the need to switch private schools to fully remote wasn’t necessary.
“I do believe mask-wearing and social distancing is enough to protect children against COVID-19 because it has already been determined that younger generations are even less prone to catching the virus,” said Ledbetter.
Ledbetter explains that a better alternative would have been to have schools be in-person and offer online as a choice. Schools can do individual interviews with students, where information can be taken in about their living situations, such as if they live with high-risk people who may be elderly and/or immunocompromised. From there on out, decisions could be made about what students need to be online and what ones are able to be in-person.
Another alternative Ledbetter suggests is split days where one-half of students show up in person for a few days per week, then the other half shows up for the last few days.
“That way schools aren’t getting packed and social distancing would be easier,” said Ledbetter. “And the kids will still be getting social interaction and learning in class while maintaining the guidelines and being safe.”
She emphasized the importance of social interaction among children, claiming that they’re more hands-on learners.
“It’s time to prioritize our youth and their education while also maintaining reasonable and safe guidelines to prevent backlash,” said Ledbetter.
Willey also emphasized wanting children back in classrooms for learning purposes.
In the same email, she encouraged families of students at Annie Wright Schools to maintain safety precautions as much as possible to help get students back in the classrooms as soon as possible.
Currently, Chen has not made any further announcements on Pierce County schools being able to reopen for the fall. All statements can be found on the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Departments website, www.tpchd.org.
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