The Clarkston School District would need an additional 43 teachers and 34 extra classrooms to bring its K-6 students back to full-time in-person learning under the current requirement to maintain 6 feet of social distance while in school buildings, Superintendent Thaynan Knowlton said Wednesday.
The school district’s classrooms average around 700 square feet, so that limits each room to about 11 students.
“Here sits Clarkston in the middle of all these (school districts) around us that are all-day, every day, and it creates this sense that we are doing something wrong, or we are not keeping up with what the governor is asking us to do,” Knowlton said. “But there’s just not enough space (in the district.) That’s almost another elementary school completely.”
Gov. Jay Inslee recently advocated for more in-person learning, particularly on the west side of the state. He said school districts considering face-to-face learning should require masks, continue social distancing and have proper ventilation in the buildings.
Earlier this month, Inslee said about 200,000 of the state’s more than 1 million public school students have received some form of in-person education this year during the coronavirus pandemic. In Clarkston, students started the school year in a hybrid schedule, which currently remains in place.
The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention set the 6 feet of social distance as a guideline, but it’s required in Washington school buildings through the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Department of Health, and the Labor and Industry Department, Knowlton said.
“I think Idaho and other states around the country have demonstrated that 3 feet (of social distancing) works,” he said. “Our heart breaks for students who are struggling. They want their senior year, sports, dances and social life back; we all do.”
Knowlton said he has petitioned Gov. Jay Inslee’s office, OSPI, senators and state representatives to ask for more flexibility so the school district can offer more in-person days.
He encouraged others who have strong feelings about the topic to also voice their opinions to the state agencies and state officials.
Clarkston schools will not be able to return to more in-person days this year with the 6 foot requirement in place, but Knowlton is hopeful that will be lifted before the start of the 2021-22 school year.
“I’m optimistic that in the fall we’ll be able to be back full time, face to face,” he said, adding the majority of families and staff within the district want that to happen. “That’s what we are all hoping for, and that’s what should happen.”
Other school districts in Washington have recently returned to more face-to-face instruction, but many schools on the west side of the state, including in Seattle — the state’s largest school district — have only offered remote education this school year.
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