Students in Peninsula School District must return to remote learning after month of in-person classes

Emotions running high for parents in the Peninsula School District, after learning their children have to go back to remote learning. It’s a tough pill to swallow for parents who’ve been thrilled to have their kindergarten and first graders back in the classroom for the last month.

“It's emotional, we've had our fair share of tears in the last 24 hours,” said parent Alison Joseph. For Joseph, it’s particularly hard after she’s seen firsthand how much better her kindergartener has done being in school, versus how he was doing when school started out remote.

“He's night and day a different kid, in terms of his happiness level, his behavior at home, he is really really thriving in that classroom as are all the students who have gone back now.”

Though the Peninsula School District is technically making the call to switch back to remote, they say they have to follow the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department’s recommendations. A letter sent out to parents reads in part, "our students need to be in school and we want them to be in school, however, the health department currently believes this action is necessary to keep everyone safe during the pandemic."

The district also says that since 800 students have been back for 4 weeks, there have been no COVID cases. And since Gig Harbor has far fewer cases than the rest of Pierce County, they’ve asked the health department to make an exception for them. They’re not the only ones.

Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Chris Reykdal, sent a letter to the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department this week asking them to allow schools to continue in-person learning. They also requested “TPCDH consider using local, district-specific measures, rather than county-wide metrics.

As of Friday, Tacoma Pierce County Department of Health saw a record-high number of new COVID-19 cases with 139 reported cases. A letter from the health department responding to Reykdal, reads in part, “In Pierce County, the fastest increase of new cases is now those under 20 years old. This group comprises 16% of the new cases in the past two weeks-a 37% percent increase. When community transmission is widespread, the safety of students, teachers, and staff are at a greater risk."

The letter goes onto address school officials' request for the health department to make recommendations specific to district numbers instead of county-wide, stating "local, district-specific measures sound appealing but are misleading. No school is an island and variations based on local, district-specific measures are only meaningful if parents stop commuting out and workers and visitors are barred from entering."