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October 2, 2020

Dear Staff and Families,

I’m aware there are varying levels of satisfaction on how we are reopening schools.  From pausing our return of K-6 students, to classroom and teacher changes, some may feel frustrated and disenchanted with the decisions being made about teaching and learning.  This pandemic has created an incredible disturbance to our school system.  We are rapidly innovating, problem solving, and troubleshooting as we adapt to new and frequently changing realities.  Being transparent with stakeholders in that process has been and will continue to be a priority. 

‘Pausing’ our return of students to in-person instruction

We have always and will continue to follow the guidance of the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department on planning for a safe return to in-person learning.  Based on Thursday’s guidance provided to us, they encouraged us to ‘pause’ bringing back additional students for in-person learning due to the rising trend in Pierce County COVID case counts.

We did not take this ‘recommendation’ lightly.  Ultimately, the Health Department gives local control to school districts.  However, the safety of staff and students is too big a responsibility to go against guidance and recommendations from our health experts.  Additionally, we realize that guidance is given to school districts based on county COVID counts, not school district COVID counts.  Our expertise is on teaching and learning, not analyzing community health impacts due to the pandemic.  When health experts recommend a ‘pause’ in process, we pause. 

Change can be disruptive

Change in school schedules, assigned teachers, and classroom groups are disruptive to families and a disappointment to students.  We absolutely get that.  Planning for two separate instructional models (Hybrid A/B and Continuous (Distance) Learning) required staffing adjustments and class roster changes that were inevitable.  This shifting happens every year, but this year was excessive and unprecedented.  Moving teachers and students now versus later in the fall or winter provided the least disruption possible.  We adjusted our staffing and class rosters to meet the choices of families, and we are now ready to support both models of instruction moving forward. Because we now have all students placed in their selected learning model and all staff reassigned to support every student in both models, we will be able to implement in-person learning, as soon as it is deemed safe to do so.

Health and Safety Measures:  Enhanced PPE for staff and Daily Health Screens

The health and safety of staff and students is a top priority.  Required daily health screens and enhanced personal protection equipment (PPE) for staff are just a few of the measures we are taking to ensure safe teaching and learning environments for all. 

All District staff were issued two cloth facemasks in early August.  In addition, we have additional supplies of enhanced PPE for those staff members who perform high risk tasks with students, like our health room staff.  We have acquired enhanced PPE (surgical masks, clear facemasks, face shields, KN95 masks, N95 masks, nitrile gloves, portable plexiglass shields, and disposable gowns).  We will continue to monitor state guidance and, if updated, will do whatever necessary to implement new health and safety protocols required by the state. 

Next steps …

We will continue to monitor community health data in collaboration with the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department and continue to seek guidance from them as to when students in grades K-6 and 7-12 should return.  Until then, please remember to mask up and stay 6 feet apart.  It’s also a good time to get your flu shot.

Thank you for your patience and support.

Dr. John A. Polm
Puyallup School District