The much anticipated announcement by the Yakima Health District for local school officials to proceed with in-person, hybrid learning on Monday afternoon, September 28, is a positive step for students to begin transitioning back into the classroom within the next three weeks and moving beyond the limiting confines of distance instruction.

During the Sunnyside School District Board meeting later that evening which began at 7:30, Superintendent Kevin McKay presented YHD information to the board about their recommendations for advancing in-person learning beginning with K-5 students as early as Oct. 12, pending ongoing stable case counts and hospitalization rates.

Schools must observe all safety recommendations including cohorting students, ensuring daily health screenings are completed, managing masking requirements, enforcing handwashing, providing and enforcing social distancing requirements, ensuring proper disinfection, and consulting with YHD regarding any known or suspected COVID-19 in students or staff. Remote learning options must be provided to those families preferring this option.

Following a minimum of three weeks from the reopening of K-5, hybrid learning for grades 6-8 may start as early as November 2 and grades 9-12 on November 23, following the same safety recommendations already in place.

YHD officials anticipate that it will only be necessary to close schools and revert back to distance learning if outbreaks occur within schools themselves or should community transmission reach a rate requiring a return to previous social distancing restrictions, including distance learning. Medically fragile and high-risk individuals are still recommended to work and learn remotely when feasible, and distance learning must continue to be offered to those families judging the risks of in-person learning to outweigh the benefits.

After McKay completed his report, board members expressed their support for commencing education within the hybrid learning plan which appeared to be the recommended model prior to the Aug. 4 YHD guidelines, which strongly urged local school officials to implement the distance learning model.

SSD Board of Directors member Dylan Gardner eloquently detailed his comments about the distinguished purpose of implementing the return of education back to the classroom for the benefit of students while the board and attendees intently listened.

“It just hit me how hard our choice is because every day that we delay in opening up our schools to in-person or to hybrid, we’re putting more and more of our children at risk. And so, I would agree with Sandra that the quicker we get on this, the better. The thing that I have to say that as far as things may change next week, well, that’s true for the next year. Things may change every week for the next year. We can’t wait for all of those changes before we decide what we’re going to do. If we do, we’ll never act,” he emphasized.

Patrick Shelby for the Sunnyside Sun editorial board.

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