SPS cancels class at Kimball Elementary, as teachers question if staffing levels are safe

(City of Seattle)

Teachers at Kimball Elementary School say that Seattle Public Schools have been risking student safety to keep schools open.

While teachers had hoped the District would shift to remote learning until staff recovered from COVID-19 infections, SPS announced on Tuesday night that the school would close for a third straight day. Remote learning will not be offered to parents.

According to teachers, they raised concerns last week over an unsafe environment for kids while requesting that the District shift to remote learning. When the District didn’t shift to remote, teachers tell FOX 13 that they told the District they refused unsafe working conditions.

RELATED: LIST: Schools return to online learning amid surge of COVID cases

"We were just – for the past week – putting out fires," said Emma Klein, a teacher at Kimball Elementary. "We were not able to do our job of teaching. Obviously, supporting the mental health, social and emotional well-being of our children comes first – but it got to the point we had such low staffing we didn’t think we could ensure the safety of our children in our building."

KT Raschko, a music teacher at Kimball, said that they’ve been short-staffed all year. While teachers are typically replaced with substitutes, the same can’t be said for other positions in the school like educational assistants and counselors.

By last week, Raschko said 9 positions weren’t filled – which led to safety issues. Raschko said that at one point two students left campus.

"Our school community narrowly avoided one of the worst tragedies that a school can befall, losing a student," said Raschko. "I don’t want any school in our district to experience that for the district to realize they made the call too late."

The District put out a letter to SPS staff this week which outlines how and when they’ll shift to remote learning. One of the benchmarks reads: "(if) unfilled positions in a school creates unmanageable operational and/or safety risks."

An SPS spokesperson has declined to comment on specific concerns of teachers, but noted that staffing shortages and estimated student absences have led to the closure of Kimball Elementary.

The latest COVID-19 directives released by the District include details on how to mask, social distance, circulate air and test – teachers, however, are more concerned about whether enough teachers and staff are on-hand to ensure students are safe.

Parents from the Kimball PTSA have said they’re confused that there was no offering of remote learning.

Klein told FOX 13 that last week the staff was preparing students for remote learning, which has made it confusing for staff that the District won’t implement a plan.

The latest information sent to teachers explains: "A transition to remote learning depends on several factors that are specific to each situation, including total staffing, specific staff absent, physical layout, ability to maintain health protocols, student absence trends, community transmission rates, public health authority input, and various other factors."

SPS said these are the factors they’re currently looking at to determine if, or when, a school will shift to remote learning:

  • Elementary student absence rate is approaching 50% consider remote instruction for up to 10  calendar days
  • K-5 and K-8 schools have 50% of their classrooms in remote, monitor for 2 to 3 days then consider full school remote
  • 10% of core group of students and staff COVID positive, consider remote instruction for up to 10  calendar days
  • An absentee rate of 40% of students in a secondary school, consider remote instruction for up to 10 calendar days
  • 10% of secondary students are COVID positive across multiple classrooms, consider remote instruction for up to 10 calendar days
  • 25% of all SPS schools are 100% remote, consider taking district remote
  • Percent and mix of unfilled positions in a school creates unmanageable operational and/or safety risks
  • 50% to 100% school leader/Covid Site Supervisor absence due to confirmed COVID case consider remote instruction

READ MORE: Seattle Public Schools reports record-high 704 COVID cases in just a week's time

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