With the fall semester rapidly approaching, three private Christian K-12 schools on the Palouse say they are carefully preparing to resume fully in-person classes as infection rates continue to surge both nationally and regionally.
“Hopefully COVID is going to go down in the fall,” said Jennifer Beller, principal at St. Mary’s Catholic School in Moscow. “Barring no unforeseen circumstances, we’re going to open September 2 and we’re going to be fully open for all students in the school.”
St. Mary’s, which serves students 3 years old through eighth grade, and Pullman Christian School say they plan to reopen to mostly in-person classes in the coming weeks, with some limited ability to deliver instruction at a distance.
PCS Principal Sherri Goetze noted circumstances related to the coronavirus can shift quickly and there’s still time for plans to change before her school’s Aug. 19 start date. She said the school is also investigating a hybrid instructional model where students would receive at least some instruction at home but the most popular option has been to resume in-person classes.
“We did a survey and 80 percent of our students that are enrolled for this fall wanted in-person (instruction). Parents and teachers are on board as well,” Goetze said. “(Teachers) really want to have their students back — they really feel like that’s the best way to teach, they feel comfortable being in the classroom — especially (because) we have small enough classes that they’re able to do that in effective ways.”
Leaders with Logos School, a classical Christian school in Moscow, said it too plans to resume face-to-face instruction. Logos Superintendent Larry Stephenson pointed out his school was able to reopen during the last month of school for the spring semester and no cases of COVID-19 were confirmed among students, faculty or staff.
Stephenson, Goetze and Beller agreed that the relatively small class size of their respective schools helped with observing health and safety guidelines handed down by the state and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
All three administrators said they plan to deploy similar strategies to help curb the potential spread of disease in the fall as well. This includes requiring masks or face shields in school facilities, keeping class cohorts as isolated as possible from one another and disinfecting classrooms and frequently touched surfaces. Stephenson said Logos has ordered about 1,000 masks and face shields for its students when they return for the first day of school Aug. 24.
“We’re just thinking things through, trying to be cautious and yet in focus on what we do, and that’s educate kids in the classroom — that’s our priority,” he said.
PCS and Logos, which both serve secondary students as well as those in elementary school, said the sports season will likely look different as well. While Logos still plans to participate in events, he said the school will follow guidance from the Idaho High School Activities Association on how to do so safely.
Goetze said all sports will be canceled. However the school is partnering with Airway Hills Golf Center to offer the first golf program in the school’s history on an intramural basis. She said unlike other sports, golf has the space and pace to allow for distancing and all of the players will handle their own equipment.
While the schools do not anticipate being told to move entirely online, all say they are preparing for the possibility.
Stephenson said Logos ran into challenges using teleconferencing services to run live classes. However, he said if closures were mandated once more, Logos educators would make it work with similar strategies used when schools were shut in the spring. These methods include sending packets of assignments home each week and recording video lessons for students to access at their convenience rather than delivering them live via Zoom.
Beller said her teachers had great success using Google Classroom and will likely continue with that suite if classes shifted to distance learning once more and Goetze said PCS is also prepared to move online if there’s need. However all administrators are in agreement — they miss their students. However, Beller said, it will take the help of everyone in the community to keep disease rates low enough for children to return to school safely.
“If anyone can do it, we can ... but it’s going to require parents, faculty and staff to think about their behaviors outside school — that’s all going to impact it,” Beller said. “We want our children in school. I want to be here. I want children here. Parents want children here — give up something in order to have it.”
In other school news, Moscow Charter School Administrator Tony Bonuccelli said his school will likely follow whatever model the Moscow School District adopts for opening in the fall, as they rely on the district for logistical support. He said he expects more information will be available after a special school board meeting scheduled for 6 tonight.
Palouse Prairie Charter School, also in Moscow, announced last week it will begin the school year in a distance learning model that incorporates “outdoor meet-ups and activities as much as possible.” An online conversation was scheduled for today during which families can ask questions and express concerns to the Palouse Prairie school board.
Scott Jackson can be reached by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.