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Auburn School District will Start 2020-21 School Year Using Distance Learning

The Auburn School District has announced it will begin the 20-21 school year with a full distance learning model.

Education in a Pandemic

Auburn School District Superintendent Dr. Alan Spicciati explained, “this decision is based on COVID infection rates in the area, the draft plans from our workgroups, data from staff and family surveys. [As well as] conversations with neighboring school districts and the support of Public Health-Seattle & King County. We cannot imagine a way to open schools without the risk of significant transmission of COVID-19 based on the current trajectory of infections in King and Pierce counties.
The district took concerns of both the community and staff into consideration when making their decision. According to Spicciati, approximately 50% of ASD families were uncomfortable sending their child to school without a vaccine, or until all health department guidelines were met. 25% of families were unlikely or definitely not sending their children to school in the fall.

We cannot imagine a way to open schools without the risk of significant transmission of COVID-19″

“About 10% of our staff fall into the Centers for Disease Control high-risk category for COVID-19 and 30% of staff members report they live with a high-risk individual,” shared Spicciati.

Requesting patience as details were worked out, Spicciatti acknowledged the many questions families have. “We make this decision today to give ourselves seven weeks to plan and train for improved distance learning. Please know, this is our sole focus, and we are spending all of our time planning, so we get this right for our students and our community.”

Challenges of Distance Learning

Though distance learning may be the right choice for some during a pandemic, it is not without its concerns. A 2019 study of online learning showed ” the experiences of online teachers are highly complex and individualized,” and that these concerns were ” largely unaffected by years of teaching experience.”

Some of the concerns raised in the study included the teacher’s role, time management, complications with technology, course quality, educational pacing of students, lack of student support, poor relationship building, students experiencing medical issues, learning disabilities, economic distress, and social anxiety. The impact of these complications can vary significantly on both the student and the teacher.

Parents with children on Individualized Education Programs have also expressed concerns that distance learning is insufficient, potentially causing a halt to the student’s education. “We are working on plans to support students with special needs,” ASD Director of Communications Vicki Alonzo confirmed.

“We know the best place for our students is in the classroom with a caring teacher and support staff.”

School Sports

The current COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent restrictions will also affect school sports.  The  Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association Executive Board met Tuesday night and modified the 2020-21 WIAA sports season calendar.

These “changes will create four WIAA-sanctioned seasons and will also move moderate- and high-risk team sports, originally scheduled for the fall season, to the WIAA Season 3,” said the WIAA release.

Currently, the four proposed seasons are:

    • WIAA Season 1: Cross Country, Slowpitch Softball, Girls Swim & Dive*, Golf (Alternative Season), Tennis (Alternative Season)
    • WIAA Season 2: Basketball, Bowling, Boys Swim & Dive, Gymnastics, Cheerleading, Wrestling
    • WIAA Season 3: Volleyball, Girls Soccer, 1B/2B Boys Soccer, Football
    • WIAA Season 4: Tennis, Fastpitch Softball, Track & Field, Baseball, Golf, Boys Soccer, Dance/Drill

Any participation in the fall sports season will be contingent on the Safe Start plan progression. “The Executive Board will create benchmarks on July 28 to be met in order for WIAA Season 1 to take place. If the benchmarks are not met, the Board will plan to move the remainder of fall sports to WIAA Season 3,” states the release.

The WIAA released return-to-activity guidelines at the end of June.

Will Auburn School District Buildings Re-Open?

A district press release states the district will monitor infection rates throughout the fall and rely on public health to determine when to reopen school buildings. In utilizing a full distance learning model, there is potential for staff furloughs within the district. According to Alonzo, the district will be bargaining the impacts of this decision with applicable labor groups.

“During the next seven weeks, the Auburn School District will focus on the resources and training to provide an engaging, supportive, and challenging educational experience for Auburn students,” said Spiccaitti

The full message from Superintendent Spicciati announcing the decision is on the ASD website, www.auburn.wednet.edu.  The next Auburn School Board meeting, held virtually, will be Monday, July 27.

We reached out to Auburn Education Association President Elaine Hogg for comment. The AEA office is closed for summer break and our message was not returned by the time of publication. We will update if and when we receive a response.

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