Plans for how Pullman public schools will reopen and deliver instruction in the fall are beginning to come together, but Superintendent Bob Maxwell says it is still too soon to tell whether classes will be held entirely online.

The district has assembled nine subcommittees, overseen by a steering committee, that have been busy all summer drafting recommendations for reopening schools and delivering instruction.

Maxwell said subcommittee members are working on recommendations for the possibility of conducting classes completely online or through a combination of online and in-person instruction. He said based on current requirements handed down by the state, it will not be possible to start classes fully in person in the fall.

At most, Maxwell said, students at the elementary level would attend school in person 4.5 days a week, with half a day of online instruction per week. Students at the secondary level would attend two days a week in school with three days of distance learning.

“Either way, my guess is if we were hybrid to start — with some in person, some online — I doubt we’re gonna go automatically one day back to 100 percent in person. I think it would be a phase,” Maxwell said. “And if we were to go 100 percent online to start, my guess would be we do some type of hybrid to ease into a full in-person schedule again — so we need to be ready for both.”

Maxwell stressed these plans are currently in draft form and state recommendations regarding COVID-19 can change on a day-to-day basis. He said there’s still time for plans to be adjusted before the first day of school and noted it’s possible district leaders will have to continue to adjust throughout the year as pandemic trends change.

“We have about five weeks before we’re going to be back at school and just given the previous five weeks, there’s been quite a dramatic change just locally here,” Maxwell said. “It’s really hard to tell where we’re going to be, but by August 12, we’re going to have a decision one way or the other (as to) how we’re going to at least open.”

Maxwell said safety guidelines would be in place for any in-person instruction including requirements that students and teachers wear masks, practice social distancing and fill out online, daily attestations confirming they are not experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.

He said certain students, like those with special learning needs, would likely receive at least some in-person instruction no matter what model Pullman schools elect to follow for the fall semester.

Maxwell also promised distance learning will be “a much better product” than it was in the spring.

“We know that it’s going to be more consistent, structured (and) we’re going to provide much more training,” he said. “It’s going to be much more organized than when we had to literally go from in-person learning to online over a weekend.”

In a Tuesday teleconference between state superintendents and Washington’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, representatives from the state department of health said they are working on tools to help guide decision-making at the local level. Lacy Fehrenbach, DOH’s deputy secretary of health for the state’s COVID-19 response, said these tools would rely on metrics like level of community transmission and regional health care capacity to help local leaders make decisions as they navigate the pandemic.

“This is not us making decisions for you — ‘us’ being the state,” Fehrenbach said. “This is us providing tools to help decisions be made at the community level.”

Scott Jackson can be reached by email to

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