SUNNYSIDE — Schools can reopen in the Yakima Valley in a hybrid model as early as Oct. 12 according to the recent Yakima Health District (YHD) reviews of COVID-19 case counts over the past three weeks in a media release announced on Monday, Sept. 28.

At the scheduled Sunnyside School District Board of Directors meeting on Monday evening, it was determined with the release of YHD’s recommendation and per the teacher’s Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), the 15 contracted days requested for transitioning to the hybrid model has commenced.

YHD officials confirmed that most of the county has stabilized in cases that remained below the benchmark recommended by the Washington State Department of Health for in-person hybrid learning.

Their guidance suggested a staggered start, with elementary students returning first, middle school students following three weeks after, and then high school students following three weeks after the middle school students start.

SSD has yet to identify a start date for elementary students.

On Wednesday, Sept. 30, SSD will ask parents to decide if their students will begin hybrid learning, or remain in online learning, allowing school principals to plan for groupings of students, how recess, lunches, and transportation will be conducted, and what staffing needs are. An online form will be posted to the school district website, social media, and sent directly to parent emails on Wednesday.

The reopening of schools and the current obligation of para-educators being present in their buildings was a matter of contention in the public comments.

Abigail York, a para-educator at Washington Elementary, began the public comments posing the question, “I want to ask the board is why, as paras, are our lives not as valuable as the teachers?”

The board voted to approve the MOUs. Maintenance, secretary, and transportation MOUs were voted in approval by Dylan Gardner, Steve Winfree, and Sandra Linde with Michelle Perry voting against all except the para-educator MOU.

Perry recused herself from voting for or against the para-educator MOU due to her husband’s position as the President of the Public School Employees Para Bargaining Group.

The para-educator MOU was approved by Gardner and Winfree, with Linde voting against it.

Rocky Simmons was absent from the meeting.

There will be a board work session on Monday, Oct. 5 to discuss the hybrid model reopening plans.

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