Hoquiam Schools now likely to open all online Sept. 2

In light of the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases, students in the Hoquiam School District will more than likely be learning online and off campus when school begins Sept. 2.

Less than two weeks ago, the district drafted a plan that would have middle and elementary school students on campus four days a week, and high schoolers two days a week to start the 2020-21 school year.

“We are in a very unique situation right now,” Superintendent Mike Villarreal said at a special school board meeting Friday morning. “In one week’s time we’ve watched as other districts around the state are declaring they are moving to distance learning.”

He continued, “We have watched in our region the uptick of cases, and the (recent potential exposure at the high school) next to us in North Beach.” After consulting with public health, neighboring school districts and others, “I think it is inevitable we are headed into a situation where we are going to distance learning as we reopen.”

The district is making this announcement now to try to help teachers, parents and kids prepare for the opener. A final plan will be presented Aug. 17.

“I wanted to make sure we had enough time to prepare ourselves and we are thinking about all the options,” he said. The situation is changing rapidly, and Villarreal will continue to ask everyone involved to be patient as the district comes up with a plan that will consider the safety of students and staff and provide as full an educational experience as possible.

Villarreal said the district was currently rounding up the Chromebooks it distributed to students when it had to switch suddenly to an all-online curriculum in the spring when the state ordered all schools closed. He said he was confident that each student in the district would have a Chromebook ahead of Sept. 2.

The school board touted the district’s Homelink online program, a multi-district program open to students in grades 3-12.

“I’d like to encourage we get the word out about how great the Homelink program has been for us,” said board president Chris Eide. “It’s been in use for several years and is an excellent program. It offers some face to face time and they are real Hoquiam teachers.”

For more details on the Homelink option, contact the district office at 360-538-8200, and check out the district Facebook page.

Even with the laptop distribution, there are always concerns with students living in outlying areas who don’t have adequate, if any, internet connectivity. The YMCA has been providing a safe space for students to access Homelink, and the district is looking at ways to allow students safe access the Wi-Fi service at the schools.

The all online model will be similar to that students used in the spring, with some differences.

“The key thing will be the daily communication and tracking of attendance,” said Villarreal. “That is a requirement from (the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction) and will have a direct link to our funding.”

He said teachers are working on an online teaching model that will engage students and keep them learning outside of the normal classroom setting.

When school reopens this fall, all assignments will be graded on the normal scale used for in-school assignments.

“Unlike in the spring our instruction has to be strong enough we can actually assess students to monitor their progress,” said Villarreal.

Food service will continue as it did in the spring, with the district working to make sure each student has access to meals from various pickup locations.

As for a potential reopening of face-to-face learning, Villarreal said he’s heard estimations ranging from October to March. Regardless, it’s remaining nimble and proactive that will get kids through another unique school year.

“How we adjust to it and how well we handle it will determine how well we get through it,” said Villarreal. “I’m very confident in the Hoquiam team, and it’s all for our kids and community.”

A lot of adjustments will be made to any plan between now and Aug. 17, and likely beyond. There are details to work out with programs like special education, transportation when it’s required, and many others.

The district will be contacting students and parents with details as they are finalized, and information is posted frequently on its Facebook page and website, www.hoquiam.net.