COVID Issues Heating up for Seattle Public Schools

Updates: from The Seattle Times, it appears that Franklin High School was also closed yesterday due to COVID and staffing issues. As well,

Also on Monday, Lake Washington High School in Kirkland shifted back to remote learning temporarily, according to a statement on the school’s website. The shift was due to COVID-related staffing shortages, other illnesses, and absences.

On Monday and Tuesday, Lake Washington students will be learning independently from home (asynchronous learning) while staff plan to make the switch to live online learning with a teacher (synchronous learning). On Jan. 19, students will return to in-person learning.

Last week, state schools superintendent Chris Reykdal warned that some local school districts may need to close temporarily over the next three to four weeks. While state-mandated preventive measures make schools among the safer public spaces, a lack of staff may force a district or individual school building to shut down, he said.

And here's the announcement from SPS's Rob Gannon on what's happening. I'd venture to say it's as clear as mud; a visual would help. And will each school be apprising staff and parents of the absence rate so they know what is coming?

end of update

Per SPS, Kimball Elementary School will be closed tomorrow due to COVID staffing issues. Full stop. No remote, just closed. They say that school will be in session the next day, Tuesday, January 11th but I have my doubts. If so, it's probably going to be remote. 

A group, Kimball Elementary Staff Stand for the Safety of our Students, had this to say (bold mine):

For the past week Kimball Elementary School in Beacon Hill, Seattle has sustained a minimum of 9-10 unfilled positions due to the COVID crisis and substitute shortage. On Tuesday, our first day back with students in the building, our special education program was missing a significant portion of their staff along with our counselor and principal. As a result of this major understaffing, two students found themselves unsupervised and in grave danger. Over the course of the week we have continued to face issues threatening the safety of our students due to understaffing in our building. Educators are working through lunches and breaks and find we are taxed beyond our capacity as the number of unfilled absences increased by two additional staff members on Thursday.
Throughout the week, our administration requested that the district prioritize filling these positions, however, due to the district-wide substitute shortage, we have received almost no support. On Friday, staff submitted a letter to our administration communicating our deep concerns for the welfare of our students and requested that Kimball Elementary move to online learning for the week of January 10th until we can adequately staff our building. Kimball educators advocated that the call be made immediately by the district and the information shared with families in a timely manner.
After not receiving a response from the district, staff agreed that the environment in the building does not feel safe. In accordance with WA Labor and Industry guidelines, we are refusing unsafe working conditions and have opted to call in sick if staff do not feel SPS is prepared to provide a safe environment for both students and staff. Families should prepare for inadequate staffing and consequent closing of the school on Monday, January 10.  

This decision was extremely hard for our staff to make; however, we did so out of deep love for our students and uncertainty in our ability to meet basic safety needs of our children. We will continue to work tirelessly to support our students and families in remote and in person learning.

I listened in on a Zoom meeting today of educators from several schools on this issue. The schools I saw were Kimble ES, Franklin HS, Cleveland HS, Aki Kurose MS, Coe ES, Hazel Wolf K-8, Boren K-8 and Lawton ES. To add about Kimble:

- Their principal, counselor and nurse have tested positive for COVID. (I need to verify this but I don't know how the people in the building could get this wrong.)
- Teachers and staff were working during lunch and on breaks to make up for lost staff.
- Kimble SEA rep said they were communicating with SEA leadership all week. I think the issue was that staff was not going to show up on Monday and the district decided to beat them to it.
- Kimble staff believe they are in an unsafe work environment which is in their contract.
- They say PTA supports them but again, something to check.

As for other issues mentioned at this Zoom meeting:

- There may be a protest at the school board meeting this week.
- Schools have been told by SPS that a school will be "flagged" if more than 20% of the student population is not in school. But no one has any idea what that means beyond the fact. Franklin staff say they have seen 30% of students out.
- It doesn't appear that SEA is saying or doing anything publicly on this issue.
- Outdoor eating was discussed. A few schools did have district-supplied tents but apparently they have gone away. Schools that have the ability to send kids outside to eat appear to do it randomly.
- Teachers think the district's COVID dashboard should be updated daily, not weekly. (And it appears the last update was 12/31/2021.)
- Many of the staffing issues seem to be focused at a Special Education level as well as in transportation. Apparently one school had several Sped students not picked up for up to two hours. One finally got taken home by an SPS van driven by a district headquarters' staffer.
- Staff want N95 masks provided.

Students on the NAACP student board will be having a walkout over both COVID issues and safety issues at their schools. The walkout will occur on Friday, January 14th at 11 am. They have some demands:
- The district needs to be transparent on COVID cases as well as if remote learning is coming back.
- The district needs to provide more mental health services.
- Students are unclear on how the state-mandated 180 days of school will work out this year.
- Students want "open spaces" after "harmful incidents."
- They want a meeting with Jay Inslee to talk about their concerns.


Sally Schuhmacher said…
This is happening at more than just Kimball. This week at Eckstein, because of teacher absences and no subs, students from several different classes were herded into the auditorium to sit in study hall mode for 3 periods one day and 2 periods on another day. One of those days 15 teachers were absent. While students were in the auditorium, more students without teachers were placed in the gym to sit on green dots.
Anonymous said…
If schools can’t be staffed, and students are absent, close the schools for safety if needed and extend the school year to make up instructional days.

No return to remote for students who do poorly with that mode — as I would imagine some of the special education students cited in the article and, I would guess most elementary school students.

I’m of mixed minds about HS, but we have to stop pretending that remote is a substitute for school in most circumstances.

Anonymous said…
Did Eckstein send a message to parents that this would be happening (herding students into an auditorium) - or at least that this happened and might be happening in the future? While some parents absolutely need the child-care that school offers, many other parents would be happy and willing to keep their kids home to lighten the load on the teachers / administration. If no teaching is happening, then for many of us, much preferable to keep kids home, to read / work at home, and keep our kids and the community safer from COVID spread.

I would be quite displeased if my kid was being babysat in a COVID petri dish with no education (e.g. if the teacher is out) and not be informed of this beforehand, or while it were happening.

Transparency Needed said…
SPS watchdog Chris Jackins has- for months- been trying to get the board and district to talk about substitutes. The board and district have been unresponsive to Jackin's requests.

Rome is burning. Our board majority and interim superintendent are focused on changing governance systems etc. Board meetings have been devoid of meaningful Covid response etc.

Anonymous said…
A few things:

1) It does seem to me like closing schools is very near to being a good idea. SPS staying open is a result of them trashing everyone’s trust so badly last year that the State had to declare an emergency and write some pretty rigid rules about closing again. Imagine feeling the consequences of your own actions, but with students along for the ride.

2) What is happening at Kimball is muddled with what also sounds like organized activity aka a “sick out.” This will confuse things for families.

3) Hmmm the NAACP Youth “demands” sound awfully bureaucratic. Students are really worried about the State’s rule on 180 days? Really? Someone is obviously whispering in their ear.

Anonymous said…
@Blue Sky

My daughter goes to Eckstein and we got an email about the arrangement the day she has to go to the auditorium. They assured us they space the kids in seats with “green dots,” and that they had two new HVAC units. It may actually be safer than a classroom. And I prefer my daughter having one period in the auditorium vs all day at home, but the calculus changes with more auditorium time. My kiddo did not fare well under remote, and all the kids are worried they’ll be plugged into screens again and forgotten like last year.

OSPI is saying synchronous time for remote school will be longer days than SPS did last year. I’m also of the mind that if schools should close, full stop, the days missed are made up in summer.

NE Seattle
Anonymous said…
Franklin High is now closed, no remote, to be made up later. Wouldn’t be surprised to see Garfield follow. There has been some staff reluctance and rumblings of sick outs at both.

SEA is asking for more transparency around which school closes and why, and I agree that hat would be helpful.

Rolling Closures

Anonymous said…
"all the kids are worried they’ll be plugged into screens again and forgotten like last year. "

I think that is what makes us less reassured about "temporary" school closures, that a return to remote will lock the system into remote, as it seemed to do last year, even when health guidance (vaccinations, ventilation, masks, in school transmittable, risk to children, and the damage to education of remote school) changed.

The biggest new health guidance I see coming (but am not certain of yet) is that an omicron spike might occur with (relatively) less disease and that once the spike turns around, the concern about hospital overload need not guide policy. But I worry that fear (and arguments about unpredictability) will keep everyone home anyway, if we don't have levers to induce a return to school.

The OSPI rules on instructional time seem to be one of the few statewide levers to prevent the stasis that occurred last January. I don't think longer remote school is a solution (more time at screens seems terrible, especially for younger children). Requiring the hours to be made up, which OSPI can do, needs to be on the table (though I don't know how many hours the state can require). I guess there's a hard limit when we reach the number of hours that would put us into the next school year.

Anonymous said…
Our contract states that Admin including Downtown admin have to fill in unfilled school positions. Plenty of them available to do so. I know they have done some but frankly if it doesn't keep the wheels running for the district then those people should all be in the buildings.

Theo Moriarty
Transparency Needed said…
It is unclear whether schools are closed due to teacher walk outs or sickness. We need transparency- all around.

We are going to loose a generation of kids.
Anonymous said…
My prediction, there’ll be more sick calls. I don’t really get the “babysitting” comment as it demeans education, teachers, students and their families. It’s like calling restaurant workers and shop workers your personal servants. Or bus driver your chauffeur. Then again comment like this is meant to be inflammatory and divisive.

SPS can institute random testing for asymptomatic people as we have testing shortage. If necessary, SPS can go to year round school and do a summer session. Many countries don’t have the long summer school break like the US.

-seattle mom
Another Eckstein Parent said…
My kid is also at Eckstein (7th grade) and was in the auditorium for multiple hours on Weds-Fri last week. We didn't get any communication from the school about it before or after. But he did tell me there were 17 teachers out on Wednesday.

- I haven't yet seen evidence that in-person school is worsening the spread of COVID. Last year, so much of the spread was via sports programs, out of school parties, restaurants, and family gatherings.
- I don't trust SPS to resume in-person school in anything like a timely manner if they switch to online school. Not after the unbelievable foot-dragging last spring. I might feel better about it if they could articulate a specific, time-limited plan and some very specific objective metrics about when they would reopen.
- Online school last year was terrible. Awful. Alienating, depressing, discouraging. I know teachers tried their best and it's not their fault, but the format was developmentally inappropriate and just plain bad. I (and he) can't stomach going back unless it's very clear the benefits outweigh the (known, substantial) drawbacks.
Anonymous said…
While I sympathize with many of these comments, many are not rooted in the reality of the situation that this is an ongoing, ever changing pandemic. By setting hard and fast timelines on the basis of what people want vs. the legitimate threat to student and educator safety, we will just keep winding up in the same spot over and over.

Also, I've seen some NAACP Youth Council panels and no one is whispering in their ears. Students these days often have a better political understanding of what's going on at their school sites than parents or admin.

" I haven't yet seen evidence that in-person school is worsening the spread of COVID. Last year, so much of the spread was via sports programs, out of school parties, restaurants, and family gatherings."

This comment makes absolutely no sense. Gathering 25-30 people in a confined space, mask or no, absolutely worsens the spread of Covid. One cannot exempt a form of gathering just because it is politically or socially inconvenient.

Rome is certainly burning, but the fingers need to be pointed at higher levels than teachers or districts and at our federal system for not providing better education. They literally invent money. Want classroom crowding solved? Pay teachers $100k out the gate with a masters degree in Seattle and cap classes at 15. You'll have a healthy school system. All this finger pointing right now is just a dog and pony show for larger failings of leadership by Democrats and Republicans alike.
Anonymous said…
"Gathering 25-30 people in a confined space, mask or no, absolutely worsens the spread of Covid. One cannot exempt a form of gathering just because it is politically or socially inconvenient. "

This is entirely an empirical question. In fact, the data from earlier in the pandemic -- see Ashish Jha, Brown School of Public health:

"In summer 2020, I was convinced high community transmission would make it dangerous to open schools

That fall, as data came in on schools, it became clear my mental model for school safety was off . . . "

I entirely agree that hard and fast metrics can't work with an rapidly changing pandemic. In fact, that's part of why I do not think we can make decisions based on theory or mental models (like, gathering 25-30 people in a space must contribute to significant spread, significant enough that we have to forego another essential activity). We need data to act on and we need to act on the results, not the predictions or the fear. We can't expect predictability, but two years into the pandemic and what may be a chronic condition we need to cope with that condition.

Another Eckstein Parent said…

""I haven't yet seen evidence that in-person school is worsening the spread of COVID. Last year, so much of the spread was via sports programs, out of school parties, restaurants, and family gatherings."

"This comment makes absolutely no sense. Gathering 25-30 people in a confined space, mask or no, absolutely worsens the spread of Covid. One cannot exempt a form of gathering just because it is politically or socially inconvenient."

This is simply not true, at least for every previous wave of COVID. Here's an excerpt from the CDC's report on COVID spread (or lack thereof) in K-12 classrooms. (

"CDC guidance identifies multiple prevention strategies that schools can implement in a layered approach to promote safer in-person learning and care. These include promoting vaccination, consistent and correct use of masks for people who are not fully vaccinated, physical distancing, screening testing in schools to promptly identify cases, improved ventilation, handwashing and respiratory etiquette, staying home when sick and getting tested, contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine, and routine cleaning with disinfection under certain conditions.

"When prevention strategies are consistently and correctly used, the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission in the school environment is decreased.71 Use of multiple strategies – also called layered prevention – provides greater protection in breaking transmission chains than implementing a single strategy...

"Studies of SARS-CoV-2 transmission in schools that consistently implemented layered prevention strategies have shown success in limiting transmission in schools, even when testing of close contacts has been incomplete.38, 46, 49, 73-77 For example:

"A study of 11 school districts in North Carolina with in-person learning for at least nine weeks during the fall 2020 semester reported minimal school-related transmission even while community transmission was high.38 These schools implemented and strictly adhered to multiple prevention strategies, including universal mask use and physical distancing. Breaches in mask use likely explained the few instances of in-school spread of SARS-CoV-2.
A study of elementary schools in Utah who implemented layered prevention strategies, such as mask wearing and cohorting, found very low transmission (secondary attack rate 0.7%) in December 2020-January 2021.74
"In a study of K-12 schools in St. Louis with multiple layered prevention strategies in place, only 2% of contacts of COVID-19 cases in the schools tested positive for the virus; this was despite high community transmission rates...
"A study of private schools that reopened for in-person instruction in Chicago with the implementation of layered prevention strategies found minimal in-school transmission.57
When a combination of effective prevention strategies is implemented and strictly adhered to in the K-12 in-person learning environment, the risk of transmission in the school setting appears to be lower than or equivalent to the transmission risk in other community settings.47, 103"

With universal teacher vaccination, availability of vaccines for students, availability of boosters for everyone, universal masking, and upgraded ventilation, I would argue that schools are among the safer places children could be right now. That's not an argument of "convenience," but one of public health.

If you want to argue that COVID is spreading in schools using this bundle of preventative measures, I ask that you share data, not ad hominem attacks.
Anonymous said…
In addition to the intelligent remarks above ( anonymous), there is no way out of the pandemic for USA without paid sick leave. As long as people have to make the choice to work sick or not pay rent etc, sick workers will continue to spread the virus and it will mutate. The virus has found a political opening which it is taking full advantage of.

Do better.
Anonymous said…
OK now the activism on school safety is just getting weird. Some petition floating around about Franklin students doing a “sick out” on Friday. How does that work if the school is already closed because the teachers are sicking out? If it’s really so unsafe, why wait until Friday to stay home? Does more disruption even register at this point?

Hey Hey
So the NAACP youth council is organizing a walkout on Jan 14th.
Transparency Needed said…
Who is responsible for the Board Agenda? There will be a board meeting tomorrow. We have schools closing and Covid Response isn't on the agenda.

Will students and staff be issued N95 masks. What is going on with outdoor lunch and learning loss? Will classrooms be able to pivot to online learning, if needed?

We are heading into the third year of Covid. Some middle school students won't have a normal middle school experience. Some high school students have had 3 out of 4 disrupted school years and the board/ district won't be discussing Covid response?(!!)

According to the Board Agenda, the Interim Superintendent (hired without public input) will be discussing a change in governance system.

What is going on inside the Executive Committee? It certainly appears they are not focused on Covid.

This is all beyond belief. We need transparency.
Anonymous said…
I am a teacher in a SPS Elementary School and I do not think we should go remote. Instead, I think parents and staff alike should advocate for downtown staff to be mandated to cover unfilled positions. When we had another flu outbreak many years ago, I was mandated to sub for a school for the week, as I was a downtown district employee. There are many staff- consulting teachers, ELL, tech, and Satterberg coaches who are working (or whatever they are doing) from home. Yes, they volunteer once in a while in a school, but they can sub everyday in schools. Teachers do not want to be coached or receive or participate in Professional Development right now, they just want to be safe and supported. If SPS wants to make their students (especially their students furthest from educational justice) a priority, then ALL SPS staff must pitch in. It is possible. Remote learning even for a week or two will be disruptive and not effective. However, it is best on a school by school basis versus the entire district.
Anonymous said…
The idea that there are extra staff that means that we wouldn't have to close schools sounds great. But are they really qualified, especially if the absences are with SpED staff? Otherwise, we have a solution that only works in theory.

Anonymous said…

Do we know downtown staff isn’t already subbing? Division directors and School Board Directors were volunteers at the COVID-test function on 1/3. Teachers love to complain about administrators but I suspect they are quite busy right now. And they have actual jobs they are doing.

Prove It

Anonymous said…
To SPS and Governor Inslee, so where are the N95 and Kn95 masks that you stated are being prioritized for staff & all children in schools? Governor Inslee stated he is prioritizing getting both tests and N95 masks to our school children! Mayor Harrell announced that city workers who need to work in the field (as opposed to home) will have access to N95 masks starting next Tuesday. Over and over I have read that schools should be prioritized for safety and also among the last to close. Keeping schools closed because staff is absent should not be the situation, when the union contract states that district staff should fill in those positions. Why are our children and families always the last instead of the first to be prioritized? Doesn't anyone care about the kids and the families that have to scramble? What about working single parents? Meanwhile our entire community is open, bars, restaurants, crowded gatherings, same as ever! There are vaccinations. Despite the overall hospitalizations going up for all due to the surge, children remain among the least affected age group. Closing schools are not what Biden's administration and medical experts are promoting. Where is the outrage among our families and parents like in other liberal cities across the US? After last year nobody trusts SPS.

SPS parent
Anonymous said…
@Anonymous- 1/12/22 12:23PM Agree entirely! Spot on!

Seattle Parent.
Anonymous said…
Updated saw this article today written by a SPS teen. Governor Inslee promised million of KN95 masks prioritized for our schools in the news Jan 5th. SPS posted a statement on their website, that they are aware. Here we are with schools closing. When will the masks for schools arrive?

SPS Parent

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