Tumwater School Board Hears Community Input on Going Back to In-Person Learning

Board reviewed results of a survey of students and listened to parents' comments


The Tumwater School Board met last night for its regular meeting where they discussed community concerns and student input about returning to in-person learning.

Student representative Rebecca Allen from Black Hills High School, reported her findings from a recent survey she conducted among fellow students. Most responses were positive and provided suggestions for returning to in-person learning. Results included: 

  • 45% of students who answered the survey responded that if they should go back to in-person learning, they would prefer full-days over half-days, starting at 8:20 a.m. and ending at 2:10 p.m, as they liked the extra hour of sleep.
  • 22% of surveyed students answered that they would prefer to go back when it is 100% safe to do so.
  • 18% said in-person learning is not realistic due to the lack of social distancing in hallways and in the cafeteria. Some added that they did not feel their peers were mature enough to wear a mask all day, should they go back.
  • 14% of surveyed students did not have any suggestions about the process but wanted to return to in-person learning, most citing mental health issues in their reasoning.

Allen mentioned that before the pandemic students often sat on the floor during lunch or ate in the hallways as there was often not enough room for everyone in the cafeteria. Allen provided suggestions from her research to combat these problems and maintain social distancing in these areas. These included:

  • Add tables outside to encourage social distancing
  • Allow students to eat in classrooms during the lunch hour
  • Lengthen the passing period between classes

During the time allocated to public comments, six of the seven pre-arranged time slots were parents of students in the district echoing similar concerns.

Tracey Sondgroth, parent of an 11th grader in the district and a private school teacher who has been working in-person since September, provided the Board with suggestions that have proven successful in her school.

“Daily we take precautions, we wash hands, take temperatures at the door, mask all day, and social distance. We have had minimal cases while being in-person for four months and I have never been afraid to come into work. Keeping schools closed is not the answer, we cannot cave to this virus,” said Sondgroth.

Jenny Sanich, parent of two students in the district, one with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), mentioned her thoughts about putting kids first during this time. “As you explore the option of reopening schools, I challenge the school board and teachers to put the kids first. Many non-essential people have returned to in-person work and I would argue that teachers are the most essential.”

Renee Terry, parent of a 5th grader, a 9th grader, and an 11th grader in the district, mentioned mental health concerns as the reason she wanted to see in-person learning resume. “I have watched my children continue to decline academically and emotionally over the last nine months. I encourage you to look at this issue as an opportunity and send our children back to school activities as well as return them to in-person learning,” said Terry.

Don Brewer, a parent of four children in the district, echoed previous comments when stating, “I am asking you to provide hope to parents and students in our community by making plans to open schools as soon as possible.”

Hearing these concerns, School Board President Melissa Beard said that the board will continue to discuss how to return students to in-person learning in a timely and safe manner. 

Tumwater High School Principal Jeff Broome summarized the challenges students and staff are faced with as online learning continues, including: decreasing failure rates, promoting positive mental health among students and staff, avoiding situations that increase anxiety and increasing intervention and engagement strategies.


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