By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
A week and a half into the new school year, some Seattle Public Schools parents have been keeping their children home, feeling it’s not safe to return until kids under 12 can be vaccinated.
While usually it would take 20 consecutive absences before a student was kicked off the rolls, the district changed its policy last week to say that any student who hadn’t shown up by this past Friday would be unenrolled. The district attributed that to “guidance” from the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, which for its part says it has not issued any such order.
One West Seattle parent who wants to keep her child enrolled at their neighborhood elementary school – while staying home until vaccinated – has been organizing other like-minded parents.
Laurel Taylor spoke to the School Board during its online meeting Thursday night. (The video should play at the start of her testimony, but if not, she’s at 1:16:55 in.)
Taylor tells WSB that she and some other parents had been claiming “preplanned absences” as a way to keep their kids on the neighborhood schools’ rolls as long as possible. “Reading the SPS attendance policy made this seem like an elegant solution that would preserve funding and teachers but also keep kids safe while we advocate for a remote option for all,” she said. Then came the sudden change.
Taylor was not the only person who spoke to the board Thursday night advocating for an expanded remote option. The district only offered it to 300 students via a “pilot program” this year, and those who signed up for it were required to commit to staying in it all year, not just until in-person learning became safer, via vaccination availability or otherwise.
She takes issue with the way the district suddenly changed the policy to kick out the holdouts sooner – the district’s School Beat newsletter simply offered a link to the Attendance Policy without calling specific attention to the change, which would only have been seen by those clicking that link Taylor adds, “They have also not specified what OSPI guidance they’re basing this decision from; many parents have been poring over all of the policies and guidelines and this drastic action does not align with any of our interpretations of what is allowable under OSPI rules.
We contacted OSPI to ask what “guidance” might have led SPS to the decision to kick out families so soon. OSPI spokesperson Katy Payne replied:
I’m working with program experts around my agency to get an understanding of what led the district to make this determination. What I’m understanding so far is that, while there are state financial and student reporting requirements that include guidance on when to report students as enrolled or receiving educational services, these requirements do not direct school districts to withdraw a student who has not attended classes after a certain amount of time.
OSPI policy requires districts to prioritize outreach and reengagement (Chapter 392-401 WAC) even when students are withdrawn from enrollment. Additionally, OSPI is actively working to clarify for districts reporting requirements and their relationship to withdrawing students from schools; as well as best-practice guidance on outreach and reengagement in order to support students to attend.
Taylor says, “Kicking students out is just so stupid because all students are going to be negatively impacted come January or whenever it is that a flood of newly-vaccinated kids show up in their neighborhood schools, which they 100% have the right to do.” In the meantime, she has a threefold request for the district and state: “1. Do not kick out families who are desperate to stay in their local or choice school but who conscientiously object to sending students in person. 2. Be creative and find a way to offer remote options to all families who want it without sending us out of District. 3. OSPI needs to evaluate funding models for this emergency situation and allow families to be counted who want to stay in District but who will not send their kids in person.”
As for parents, either those who also have been keeping their kids home or those who haven’t but are sympathetic, she urges them to “make their voices heard to the School Board, OSPI and Inslee so that all families can be counted without being kicked out of their neighborhood or choice school.”
So far this year – pending a scheduled update tomorrow – the district data dashboard shows 44 COVID cases, 14 of those in this area. In the meantime, one expert thinks vaccination could be available to kids 5-11 within two months.