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Reopening Decision - From Superintendent Woods
Posted on 07/30/2020
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Dear GSD Staff & Families,

I hope you are well.  As you are aware, we have been focused the past few months on preparing for a full or modified in-person return to school for the fall.  Unfortunately, I need to inform you that with the support of the Griffin School Board and guided by a strong recommendation/directive from Thurston County Public Health, I have decided that we will begin the school year in a full distance learning model in September.  We will not initially be returning with in-person instruction.

There are many factors that went into this decision, but none are more important than the communication all Thurston County Superintendents received today from the Thurston County Public Health Department (please see link below), which stated that it is not currently safe to start the school year face-to-face.  We are unsure how long we will remain in a distance learning model, but we will closely monitor infection rates and continue to rely on our local public health agencies to determine when we can safely reopen our school for our students.

Please know this is not a decision I was hoping we would have to make for the beginning of our new school year, but we must put health and safety first and that means listening to our local health officials.  For many of you this may be a welcome decision met with relief.  For others, this may be extremely frustrating and I apologize for the anxiety and stress it may be causing you.  I understand and respect both sets of feelings, but we must do what is best for the health and safety of our students, staff and families; I believe this is the best decision for us right now.  We are absolutely still planning for a return to in-person instruction in a hybrid or full-time model when public health authorities advise it is safe.

During the spring closure we learned a great deal about distance learning.  Our administrators and staff had very little time to prepare for distance learning, but even without the benefit of time, I feel our staff did a great job, given very difficult circumstances.  I feel the same can be said about our students and families who rose to the challenge of learning in new ways.  Having said that, the distance learning that will happen as we begin our new school year will look different and will be much improved from that of last spring's emergency closure.  We are using the remainder of summer to prepare for a K-8 distance learning model that will engage and challenge our students, which means we will be utilizing the valuable feedback you gave us concerning the distance teaching and learning that took place during our spring closure.

This fall, our students can expect a distance learning program that is relevant, challenging and engaging.  Teachers and students will have set schedules for classes, and will use technology for live and independent interaction.  Technology will be available for all students to take home prior to or during the first week of school.  Staff and students will be trained on the resources that are to be used for class meetings and communication. Teachers and principals will regularly monitor student engagement and progress. Grading practices and daily attendance expectations will return.  In short, there will be new expectations for everyone and distance learning will look different in the fall.  I believe that every Griffin teacher and support staff member will embrace this challenge and will provide our students with the highest quality distance learning possible. 

We recognize that distance learning may not fully meet the needs of some students with special needs and we are evaluating the extent to which we can provide services to students who need them. We will have more information in the coming weeks.

Again, it is our hope that cases decrease and the curve flattens, allowing us to bring back face-to-face teaching and learning (when it is deemed safe by our local health department).  It is my current thought that even once we are able to initially return to school in-person, we would allow students and families to stay online 100% of the time if that meets their needs and/or they are not comfortable returning to school during the 2020-21 school year.

Thurston County school districts will be delivering this kind of message to their communities today.  We work closely together and are all committed to making decisions based upon the health and safety of our school communities and that means following the strong advice we received today from Thurston County Public Health.  We are making this decision today to give you time to prepare and to give ourselves time to focus, plan and train for a successful distance learning model.

There is no substitute for the face-to-face learning that takes place in a school.  We absolutely wish that we could safely begin the school year that way, but that is not our current reality.  Until that time, we will work to provide the best possible distance learning experience for Griffin students.

Greg Woods - Superintendent