Pullman schools advised against in-person learning

Returning to face-to-face classes would require fewer than 37 cases of COVID-19 in two weeks



High COVID-19 viral activity rates in Pullman make in-person learning unsafe, according to the Whitman County Health Department. The schools will initiate hybrid learning when COVID-19 cases are low.

ANDREA GONZALEZ, Evergreen reporter

Whitman County Public Health does not currently recommend Pullman Public Schools conduct in-person learning because viral COVID-19 activity remains relatively high in Pullman. 

It is dangerous to have in-person learning if there are more than 75 cases per 100,000 people in a population, said Troy Henderson, Whitman County Public Health Director. This metric was put out by Gov. Jay Inslee and the Washington State Department of Health. 

Whitman County’s population is about 50,000 people, so having 37 or more positive cases within two weeks is high viral activity and in-person learning is not recommended, he said. 

However, Pullman’s viral activity is decreasing because the number of cases are lowering, he said. If the number of cases continue to decrease and viral activity stays within the 18-25 years age demographic, then Whitman County Public Health may support in-person learning, particularly for grades K-6. 

Children ages 11 and up spread COVID-19 as effectively as adults, he said, according to an article in the Journal of American Medical Association. Children ages 10 and below do not. 

“I hope that kids can get back in the classroom as soon as it’s safe to do so,” Henderson said. 

A school district reopening plan was developed over the summer, said Bob Maxwell, superintendent of the Pullman Public School District. There are two versions of the plan: distance learning 2.0 and hybrid learning, he said. Currently, the district is doing distance learning. 

The school district will initiate hybrid learning when COVID-19 cases are low in Pullman, Maxwell said. The reopening plan is still being reviewed in preparation for what may occur when hybrid classes start, he added. 

The hybrid classes would vary depending on the grade level, Maxwell said. It is likely in-person classes would start out at two to two-and-a-half days per week depending on grade level. 

The district created two models of hybrid learning, he said. The first requires half of the class to be at school in person for half the day, then the remaining students will attend school in person for the second half of the day. The second model requires half the class to attend school in person for a full day, then the other half will attend school the next day. 

Parents will have the option to keep their children in virtual learning if in-person classes are implemented, Maxwell said, but if they reopen, the district would have to follow safety guidelines like wearing masks and social distancing.

“It’s really hard to come up with a date to aim for because it’s really going to be dependent on a number of COVID cases in our community and recommendation from the Department of Health,” Maxwell said.