The Delicate Situation Between Parents and The Issaquah School District on the Return to In-Person Learning

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Jake Heffner
February 11th 2021, on the hills of Discovery Elementary in Sammamish, Washington. The first day of hybrid learning has ended for parents, students, and teachers. K-1st graders reported to their gradual reopening. Photo by Jake Heffner UW/Newslab

On Feb.11, kindergarten and first graders returned to a hybrid learning model in the Issaquah School District (ISD).  Students will be attending school on campus Monday to Friday except Wednesday.  

The rest of those school days will be spent doing asynchronous activities at home. 

There have been positives and challenges for parents and teachers in the development of returning kids to this model. 

Parents were sent emails with updates from the negotiations between the ISD and the Washington Education Association.  The emails would be sent from the ISD to parents and these emails would contain a few sentences and other times would be pages long.  Parents were having a tough time deciphering what was in these emails.

“There’s been information overload, we get so many emails that it is hard to sift through what’s important and what isn’t,” said Laura Bramwell, a parent of an ISD student. 

The ISD sent out surveys to families with school-aged children to try and get an understanding of who wanted to return and who wanted to stay at home for virtual learning.  The results of that survey can be seen here. The results were nearly split.  About 56% of parents preferred having students return to class, while the remainder want to continue with virtual learning.  Few expected moving from virtual learning to in-person learning would happen without some hiccups. 

ISD officials did not respond to requests for further comment. 

It was tough for parents because based on their decision there was a chance that their children would have to switch teachers. For young students who rapport with their teachers, switching in the middle of a school year can be quite difficult.

“I’ve always wanted my children to go back when the school reopened, because I think that that’s an important part of learning for them,” said Erica Esher, a parent with twin girls in kindergarten.  

For Esher, this meant her kids leaving her tenured teacher for a teacher fresh out of school.

“My girls have had a really wonderful experience. Their kindergarten teacher has been doing this for many years, so I absolutely love her. I’m sad that they are losing that. I kind of feel like in some aspects that my girls are being punished,” Esher said.

While the idea of kids returning has been constantly discussed since the day they were removed, people have always been curious on how this would unfold.  What kind of things were kids missing from attending in person school?

“I think the school district did a really good job getting the kids back to school, because they are trying to find a delicate balance in a really difficult situation. Though I feel like the schools could have done a better job of connecting parents with the people in their classes and helping create those mini communities,” Jacinta Miller, a parent with a second-grade student said.

Recently, Governor Jay Inslee has encouraged students to return to in-person learning.  Inslee has signed a bill allocating $714 million dollars to schools that plan to reopen. This money will only be available to schools that are either open or like the ISD have a hybrid method of opening. 

According to the ISD teachers have been teaching kids remotely, and as a part of the negotiations for the return of themselves and students to in person learning. The teachers now have their own homework to help decide how this procedure evolves. 

With almost a year of remote learning under their belts, a method similar to those given to the parents would help decide how the teachers would handle the information given to them.

“They do surveys to find out how the teachers are feeling and then based upon those feelings the union and the district sit at the bargaining table until they have reached an agreement. I did not feel like they were giving us enough information and I was definitely not alone in thinking that,”  said a teacher at neighboring Maple Valley Elementary.  The teacher preferred to not use her name for the respect of fellow teachers. 

With both parties unsure that they are receiving the best information. How does either party know that they are getting what is best for the children? 

It is an impossible situation to please everyone right now, it is just a hundred percent impossible, the Maple Valley teacher added.

With hybrid learning a go and a big push from the governor for reopening, it looks like it’s full steam ahead.