Kirkwood Elementary School

Rhiannon Gonzalez, right, helps students set up new games of Battleship in a Wildcat Academy class focused on strategy games Friday, Dec. 10, 2021 at Kirkwood Elementary School in Toppenish, Wash.

The Yakima, Toppenish and Wapato school districts will make temporary switches to remote learning as COVID cases rise in the community.

Yakima School District will be in remote learning starting next week due to COVID-related staffing shortages, a district announcement said.

Students and teachers will move to online learning Tuesday, Jan. 18, through Jan. 24, according to the announcement. Monday is the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday. The district hopes to return to in-person learning Jan. 25.

“We know that this is not what our entire population would like to see at this time and we don’t either, but we have to certainly take care of our staff and our students with respect to safety and proper instruction,” Superintendent Trevor Greene said in a news conference. “And we’re just not able to do that in the current situation.”

The district will provide grab-and-go meals for students at 11 school sites, according to the announcement. Middle school athletics and extracurricular activities are canceled, but high school athletics and activities will proceed.

Self-contained special education classes will still be held in person, the announcement said. Class schedules and other updates will be available at www.ysd7.org/RemoteLearning.

Students experiencing technology issues or trouble accessing reliable internet should contact tech services.

The district of more than 15,000 students had 3,711 students absent Tuesday, YSD spokesperson Kirsten Fitterer said in an email.

During the first week back after winter break, about 1.5% of district’s students were in quarantine and the majority of those were elementary age, according to the YSD COVID dashboard.

“We’re facing unprecedented staffing shortages in the Yakima School District, and we recognize the staffing shortages are in play all across the state,” Greene said.

More than 400 of the district’s nearly 2,500 employees have been out in recent days, Greene said.

Those interested in becoming substitute teachers, bus drivers or food service workers can visit the district’s employment page online.

The possibility of extending the remote learning period remains. But Greene said the district hopes the COVID surge will calm in the coming weeks.

The district announced Wednesday that McKinley, Barge-Lincoln and Robertson elementary schools would move to remote learning on Thursday and Friday due to staff shortages. That switch will happen as planned.

“It is our hope that with this proactive approach, we can avoid emergency rolling closures due to staff shortages like we had on Friday, January 7,” the announcement said.

The district closed on Jan. 7 due to staffing shortages. In a letter that day, Greene advised families to be prepared for potential future classroom closures due to the ongoing COVID surge in Yakima County.

COVID cases have skyrocketed in Yakima County since winter break because of the highly transmissible omicron variant. The Yakima Health District reported a case rate of 2,082 per 100,000 over two weeks as of Thursday. It was 240 per 100,000 a month ago. Hospitalizations have doubled since this time last month, with 38 people hospitalized on Thursday.

Wapato

Wapato School District will switch to remote learning starting Friday through Jan. 21. The district will determine next week whether to lengthen the remote learning period, an announcement said.

Grab-and-go meals will be available for curbside pick-up at Wapato High School on Friday and Tuesday. High school sports will continue during remote learning, but middle school athletics are temporarily suspended, the announcement said.

Earlier this week, the district canceled its afterschool program through the week. The district also worked this week to make sure every student had a Chromebook available for remote learning, according to a letter from Superintendent Kelly Garza.

Parents who do not have reliable internet and need a hot spot should contact their child’s school, district spokesperson Mike Balmelli said.

“We know this is difficult, and it’s not the optimum decision as far as our challenges in navigating COVID, but it’s a decision we felt we had to make,” Balmelli said.

Other districts

Toppenish School District will switch to remote learning for all students from Tuesday, Jan. 18, through Jan. 21 due to a staffing shortage, according to a district announcement Thursday. It expects to return to in-person learning Jan. 24.

School buses will be used as hot spots for students without an internet connection and grab-and-go meals will be available at school campuses, the announcement said.

Yakama Nation Tribal School also announced Thursday that it is closed to in-person learning due to the COVID omicron surge. Students will begin remote learning Friday and continue for an unspecified amount of time.

Earlier this week, Mt. Adams School District announced it would be in remote learning Wednesday through Friday due to a shortage of school bus drivers.

Contact Vanessa Ontiveros at vontiveros@yakimaherald.com.

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