School district creates task force to manage fall reopening

Students will wear masks or face shields, enforce social distancing guidelines



Shannon Focht, Pullman Public Schools communication coordinator, said the task force is split into nine committees, each with a different focus.

ALANA LACKNER, Evergreen managing editor

Pullman Public Schools created a task force to ensure fall reopening goes smoothly and meets all state guidelines. 

The task force is made up of nine committees, each with a different focus, said Shannon Focht, Pullman Public Schools communication coordinator. 

These focuses include finance as well as social and emotional wellbeing, Focht said. The committees are made up of a variety of community members including parents, students, staff, doctors and health representatives. The composition of each committee depends on its focus, she said.

The committees will begin meeting next week, Focht said. Each one will have a different schedule based on the work they need to do.

“It’s probably going to be a really intensive schedule considering we have a very limited amount of time,” she said. “The goal is to have information finalized, obviously, before the start of school.”

Focht said school is scheduled to begin Aug. 26.

The Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction recently released a planning guide for the coming school year. The guide addresses many of the rules and regulations schools are expected to follow. This includes the expectations for maintaining social distancing guidelines.

All students and staff will wear face coverings, according to the guide. The only exception is those who have a medical reason not to, in which they can wear face shields instead.

Bob Maxwell, Pullman Public Schools superintendent, said he believes the most difficult challenge is the social distancing requirement. This is because some classes like band or choir have a lot of students involved. He said he believes social distancing will be difficult on transportation, like buses, and during recess. 

He said he expects some of the transitions to go fairly smoothly, especially with elementary students.

“For our younger students, I don’t think it’ll be as much of a challenge. Younger students are typically good at following directions,” Maxwell said. “When we do fire drills, they’re usually spot on.”

Another challenge the task force faces is that they are not just figuring out one reopening plan, Maxwell said. They are expected to have three.

“We’re being told we have to have multiple reopening plans,” he said. “We have to have face-to-face, we have to have partial face-to-face with partial remote learning, and we have to be ready to go completely online if things spike.”

Focht said the district sent out surveys to ask for feedback from the community about how online learning went this spring. She said they intend to use the responses to guide their distance learning-related plans for next year.

“It’s important [the public knows] we’re taking this really seriously, and we’re going to take into account the huge amount of feedback we’ve gotten from parents, from our students, from staff members,” she said.

Focht said she was impressed with how well the staff had performed during the transition to distance learning.

“None of us expected to move to distance learning, especially so quickly,” she said. “We didn’t have an opportunity to prepare, but our staff has really shown up for our students. They’ve gone above and beyond.”