Renton School District parents left concerned and confused about plan to return to in-person learning

RSD Spokesperson said the district will take “phased,” approach to return student to class.

As Renton School District plans its partial return to in-person learning, some parents are concerned and confused about what the district’s plan will mean for their family and the community.

The district surveyed parents across their schools regarding their transition to in person learning, said Randy Matheson, the executive director of community relations for RSD. After 94 percent of parents participated, 48 percent said they wanted their students to return to in-person learning.

Matheson said the district is planning to take a “phased-in” approach to returning to classrooms beginning with the kindergarten through fifth grade age group.

The district’s official decision to return students back to school will be dependent on metrics like the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people, and the positivity rate of COVID-19 tests.

Matheson said the decision to start planning a return to school for some students is based upon the guidance of health department officials.

He said the district is still planning the logistics, but schools and faculty will have to implement new cleaning protocols and daily health screenings to prevent viral outbreaks in the community.

Matheson said for younger students, school is about more than just academics. It is about learning how to communicate and socialize — things that work better in person.

But parents like Jamie Adams think the district’s plan is “vague” and full of “what-if” scenarios. She said the schedule outlined by RSD that shows the potential schedule is unclear and full of alternating half-days for students that make having kids in different grades to drop-off and pick-up at different times a “huge-inconvenience.”

“At six feet of distance from one another, what kind of social benefit will they really get?” Adams said.

Additionally, the district has reported it cannot guarantee that students returning to school will have the same teachers they had through the first half of the school year.

“I have not told my kindergartner that he might not have the same teacher. It would be a huge meltdown,” Adams said. “He loves his teacher.”

Adams said her kindergartner and third-grader have adjusted well to what was an initially challenging transition to remote learning, and she thinks it doesn’t make sense for the district to make such a drastic transition midway through the school year.

“I feel like we are messing with, not necessarily a good thing, but something that is working,” she said.

Jawea Kelly, has students in middle school and high school, both of which will not resume in-school class until after the younger grades have.

She said her kids have adjusted to the online learning model, but not without challenges. Kelly said the long days being in front of a computer screen and the lack of socialization is particularly challenging and overwhelming for her kids in middle and high school.

She also worries about the logistics of keeping students and staff safe while returning to school. She wondered if students taking the bus to school would be screened for coronavirus symptoms before they got on the bus and if bus drivers would be supported by para-educators in that instance.

Parents like Kelly and Adams also raised concerns about not resuming in-person learning until all school faculty and staff have been vaccinated.

Kelly called it “ridiculous” that teachers and school workers might be forced to work in a crowded school before receiving the vaccine.

“I don’t want to explain to my kids why their teacher passed away,” Adams said.