SCHOOLS: Parents pushing district to expand online option – and to not kick out their kids in the meantime

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.

15 Replies to "SCHOOLS: Parents pushing district to expand online option - and to not kick out their kids in the meantime"

  • Former truancy expert. September 12, 2021 (10:14 pm)

    If you call your child in “sick” they cannot be kicked off the rolls.

  • NotOnHolden September 13, 2021 (6:05 am)

    Oh my goodness this is just an absolute mess.  I had not paid much attention.  My kid and I got vaccinated as soon as we were able to but I would NOT feel okay sending to in person learning this year without it.  The past two school years have been horrible for the kids and we need to start getting it right.  I assume WA will require the vaccine for anyone eligible sooner than later?  I hope so.  Not that it helps kids under 12.  I really feel for these parents.

  • Sasquatch September 13, 2021 (7:27 am)

    Not that I think SPS is doing the right thing, but the policy of removing students from a roster after the first 10 days of school has been in place as long as I’ve been a teacher. It’s nothing new. Typically there are quite a few students on the schools roster that aren’t coming due to moving or selecting a private school. Many parents don’t inform the school. . I think this is a typical problem with SPS being really bad at communication. I also get the feeling people working at the board don’t always know the right answers. We keep electing people who have never worked in public education…

  • Seattle Teacher September 13, 2021 (7:58 am)

    This isn’t a change in rules. The state requires schools to report which student have and haven’t attended the first two weeks of school, and students who haven’t attended are dropped and assumed to have moved. I’m sure if parents call and explain the circumstance the school will not unenroll them- schools try to keep as many students on the roster as possible to avoid losing funding. 

    • WSB September 13, 2021 (8:03 am)

      Parents already have been talking to their schools/principals, Laurel Taylor says. And if you look at the attendance-policy page linked, this is a write-in with this specific date; the policy later, in the original body, refers to the “20-day rule,” which wouldn’t have kicked in until month’s end.

  • AnotherWSParent September 13, 2021 (8:28 am)

    Would love a hybrid approach! Feels like I’m sending my kids to school to get covid. But it’s hard because they need the interaction with friends, teachers. Where can we find contact info for who to contact? My emails to SPS seem to have gone to a black hole. 

  • Shannon September 13, 2021 (8:34 am)

    We already got kicked out and now have enrolled with an online option thru the Port Angeles School district. Seattle should be giving us an online option and saddened we had to move districts to stay safe.

  • wsalien September 13, 2021 (11:32 am)

    I’d love to continue home schooling and keep mine enrolled. I haven’t sent the “intent to homeschool” forms yet, should I wait? Thanks 

  • S.T. September 13, 2021 (12:07 pm)

    Agree 100% that the District should provide an online option to any parent who chooses to not send his or her child back to school in-person.  But, this should not come at the expense of parents who weigh the risk of in-person learning vs. hybrid/remote option (e.g., physical, social, and emotional impacts on their kids under all scenarios) and make the difficult decision to send their kids back to school in-person.  I hope the District will keep that in mind if it choses to provide more virtual options.  

  • HTB September 13, 2021 (12:16 pm)

    You don’t get to have it both ways. Teachers spent the past 18 months being abused by parents online for not being in the classroom – so districts moved heaven and earth to make it happen. NOW, parents want the online option too. Sorry, doesn’t work that way.

    • wsalien September 13, 2021 (3:05 pm)

      They did get abused, I was shocked at how aggressive some of the parents were, but I doubt it’s those same parents who are asking to continue the online learning now. The truth is some parents need their kids to be in school in person, and some of them need their kids to be in school online.

      • S.T. September 13, 2021 (3:19 pm)

        Yes, the point I was trying to make is that if the district is concerned about parents asking for a 100% online option, the district can make that decision.  But, please do not take away the in-person option for those who chose that for their kids.  I agree with HTDB.  We did the 100% remote/hybrid option for 18 months.   Let those of us who chose to keep our kids in person at school keep that option.  

  • Waiting4KidsVaccine September 13, 2021 (12:58 pm)

    I feel like the schools made all of their decisions pre-Delta. We didn’t feel comfortable sending our kid to school before she got vaccinated so went with but there is also

    Unfortunately any school district can choose to use the guidelines here for close contact guidelines
    See page 11:“In a K-12 indoor classroom, the close contact definition excludes students who were at least three feet away from an infected student when (a) both students were wearing face coverings/masks and (b) other prevention strategies were in place.”

    I just heard from another parent who was not informed that the kid who sits next to their daughter had Covid as they were not considered close contact because they can define the contact as not counting because both kids were masked with 3 feet space, they only found out from the parent but not the district. 

  • DubSeaNoraa September 14, 2021 (1:23 am)

    We felt like we had no good options left to us by SPS, and withdrew our two students and enrolled in WA Connections Academy. And when they’re vaccinated, we’ll transfer back to our beloved neighborhood school. Maybe next pandemic you’ll offer a remote option until all students can be vaccinated so you don’t lose so much funding.

    Social distancing guidelines of “3 feet for kids, but 6 feet for adults” sounds like we’re less worried about safety and more worried about getting parents back to work.

  • WSMom September 14, 2021 (7:02 am)

    Providing an online or hybrid option does not mean taking in-person schooling from those who choose/need to send their kids into a school building. Hence the word OPTION. 

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