Thursday, May 27, 2021

Seattle Schools and Planning for Reopening for Fall 2021

 The Board had a “special meeting” yesterday afternoon to vote on a reopening plan. The Board rarely has this types of meetings because when all seven of them are together AND voting outside of a regularly scheduled Board meeting, it’s a big deal. (Director Harris was calling in from a beach and Conzie Pedroza, head of, said she, too, was on vacation.)

Why this reopening plan now? In a word, OSPI. The State Superintendent’s office required all districts to submit a reopening plan - per OSPI template - by June 1st. 

Here’s an overview with the link to the plan from the district’s webpage about this action.

The biggest takeaway that district staff told the Board was that this plan is NOT the entire plan and staff are still working on that. Rob Gannon, Deputy Superintendent, said this is a plan but it is “not comprehensive.” He said there is more engagement to come and this is “just a moment in time.”

The district promised a FAQ on June 7th.

The SPS Academic and Student Well-being Recovery Plan addresses six themes, required by OSPI:

  • Student Well-being
  • Student and Family Voice
  • Professional Learning
  • Recovery and Acceleration
  • Diagnostic Assessment Tools
  • Community Partnerships

These themes are in addition to health and safety processes and protocols already approved by the school board and that meet requirements of the Department of Health, CDC, and Public Health.

The district only received the template about a month ago and both senior staff and members of the Board had nothing for praise for how rapidly the plan came together. But wait a minute - none of this could have been a surprise for a staff that claimed all year to be working on a reopening plan so I’m a little less impressed than the Board. 

That fast timeline meant that the notation about public notification meant a fairly narrow amount of engagement with families. But again, there is no reason the district couldn’t have been doing a lot more outreach earlier. The district had a survey, plus a Facebook Live event earlier this week and staff said they had 450 participants with 200 comments. The district also had a meeting with building leaders and staff with 99 participants. 

Carri Campbell, head of Communications, noted several “themes” from the family engagement:

- A plan with concrete details

- Staff and families want to give input and all communication channels should be inclusive

- How will data be gathered to determine where students are plus how to support instruction. 

- Educators need training and support around differentiated learning

- SEL and mental health services available and in several languages

- Broad support around counselors and nurses being in schools. Work needs to be done with “partners” to expand supports for students and staff. 

- Caution about testing and “overtesting” - “Go slow to go fast.”

- Special Education students and their needs

- Health and safety protocols; what are they, use of masks and social distancing, what is the plan if COVID spikes at a any given school and hybrid options. 

- Technology; varied. Opinions on use of tech from 1:1 was good for some and bad for others. Some parents said they didn’t want as much in-person teaching.

- Operations: two items 1) clarity of transportation plans and 2) requests to return with previous start and end times.

- ESSER funds and how will they be used. These are the federal funds being sent to district for COVID effects mitigation. Keep current staffing even if underenrollment numbers come. Losing staff will make SEL goal completion difficult.

- One good comment out of the family engagement - “Prioritize calm.”

The district is planning to do the following:

- regular, coordinated “cadence” of family and student engagement

- launch a Fall 2021 campaign of information, both internal and external

- working with 20 affinity groups and advisory groups including the Seattle Council PTSA

- school-based engagement opportunities

- “plug and play” videos so families can get information on their schedule

- they are encouraging media to document the progress

Director Questions

Harris asked about Special Education students. Answer: Yes, that is absolutely part of the plan. 

Rivera Smith

She pointed out that she thought she heard James Bush, head of Engagement, mention “a Return to Schools Taskforce” and did that exist? Keisha Scarlett, CAO, said that there will be “return to schools workgroups.” There is a “remote learning taskforce” and their report is to come. 


He stated this was “a breath of fresh air” and he wondered how this will all work for families.


He asked about extra-curricular activities. Scarlett said that those activities have a correlation to student well-being and “engagement and joy.” But staff stated that because there were a wide number of activities with many specific to some schools, it was hard to say what is coming back. 

DeWolf said if that was the case, how would families know what was available? The answer was schools would be doing that notification.

His next question was one that I didn’t clearly understand. There’s an app/program Panorama and DeWolf wanted to know why that was being used. They said Eric Anderson, head of testing, could answer that (but he wasn’t there). Hampson chimed in and said Panorama seemed to work well for students but not their parents. 

DeWolf said that the PD for teachers needed to include “a culture of care” and that some kids feel unsafe at their schools. 

Pedroza referenced issues around Asian hate (stemming from COVID links to China)

DeWolf also asked about grading policies. (To note, I have just read that several districts in other states are going to just pass every single student to the next grade level.) Scarlett mentioned that there could be adjustments and referenced “how adults grade kids.” I found this odd because unless she thinks there should be peer grading, I’m not sure how you get away from adults grading kids. She may have possibly meant grading PD that encourages objective, not subjective grading.

She also mentioned...a new position at JSCEE, Assessment Manager “so we know our data needs.” I thought that was Eric Anderson’s job but I guess not.

She also spoke of “decolonizing social studies” as one of her top goals this next school year. 


She mentioned concern for “kids in welfare” and “culturally responsive” teaching. 


She observed that all students had been affected by the upending of public education by COVID but that she wanted to see more about specific groups and their needs.

She said it is important for staff to be clear on whether engagement events are informational versus those where families could give input. 


Will there be a return to sports for Sped students as was available previously? The answer was a hearty yes.

Rivera Smith

This was one of the more uncomfortable points in the discussion. She noted that in several places in the OSPI template, SPS seemed to leave out Special Education. Pedroza kind of danced around and then said that it could have been “a clerical error.” 


Hampson tried to brush this off as well.

Rankin chimed in and said that they were just voting on a resolution and plan itself. She said that Special Education will be included in the rest of the plan.

Hampson asked legal counsel and he said that they were approving a plan but that doesn’t stop development of more parts to the plan. He said he could agree with “clerical changes if there was not substantive new content.” I would suppose putting in language around an entire program might be considered “substantive.”

Rivera Smith still persisted, worried that not including Special Education in several places in the plan sent to OSPI could be problematic.

Rankin came back in and said “to her” using the word “inclusion” means Special Education students in General Education “environments.” I would love to see her try to tell that to a judge who would ask her if she were a lawyer. The final call should always be with SPS legal counsel.

To be honest, I didn’t really hear a final call but I sure hope that Director Rivera Smith is not right because getting services for Special Education students is already hard enough. 


Welcome Home said...

The Seattle Times did an article on school re=opening. Seattle Public Schools. Seven districts are offering more in person learning. One district is offering same in person learning and two offering less in person.


Anonymous said...

This was a good recap of the meeting. An awful lot of buzzwords and vacuous terms and caveat, caveat, caveat that this is more like a plan for a plan. Yah, pretty obvious that the district and the Board didn’t do any planning, prep, or engagement until OSPI threatened to withhold funding - from the federal package and standard funding models as well (I think - there was talk of revising emergency state rules for education and related spending, which must have happened by now).

I always thought we had “big government” in schools to help destitute places that didn’t respect education like the American South. But this year it’s clear our so-called progressive district need the state and feds to literally reopen schools in Seattle. SMDH.

Truth Hurts

Welcome Home said...

Olympia wants Seattle Public Schools to rent space to re-open schools. Renting space sounds like a good idea. Chandra Hampson shoots down the idea. Why?


Anonymous said...

Not alot of details. Not using federal money as intended for ALL students, including special education and others affected by Covid. It seems as written aligned towards directing all incoming covid federal funding towards the narrowly defined Strategic Plan informed by targeted universalism, and 4 major priorities of Seattle Excellence. That is why parents don't see concrete plans and details to address all kids, special education kids as included. It is a targeted universalism "laser focused" (district words) plan. It is not an inclusive plan which is why they are not even hiring counselors at all schools with the windfall of funding. Hopefully they will provide transportation this time around which is fraction of the budget. Linking to documents that informed their plan, instead of counselors, money instead may go toward outside racial and ethnic community based organizations that work with limited groups of "target" children. Does the federal government and educators believe all kids suffered and SHOULD served in some capacity by the Covid relief money, the answer is yes. Will it happen in SPS?


Anonymous said...

Probably because renting space does not align with their narrowly defined priorities. It's needed in schools they are not focused upon. They are receiving a huge amount of federal funding. Yet no matter how much they receive it does not seem to matter much. I believe they are assuming they will be able to pack them in again where it is overcrowded Fall 2021.


mb said...

Does anyone know if enrollment is down for fall? Does this impact the budget?

Mag mom