One school district in Kittitas Co. plans to fully reopen amid COVID-19 pandemic

Fear of reopening schools during the COVID-19 pandemic is sparking controversial conversations across the nation. As more districts in Washington move to remote learning, one district is planning to fully reopen. The decision to have students back in class is causing some mixed feelings in one community in Kittitas County.

Kittitas is a small, quiet city of more than 1,300 people surrounded by mountains. At the heart of the community is Kittitas School District. For months, school buildings were closed and parking lots were empty due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shaylyn McGuffin and Stephanie Nevius are both incoming juniors in the district and said being away from the classroom and friends for so long made their small-town feel even smaller.

“I think we should all go back to school. Make it normal. I don’t think this should be the normal,” said McGuffin.

A sense of normalcy may come soon for the students. In a letter from superintendent Mike Nollan, it said the Kittitas School Board voted to fully reopen schools in September. The letter explained the decision was based on a survey that showed about 70 percent of parents who responded wanted their child back in class in some capacity.

“I think it’s just easier to learn stuff and you have a teacher right there to ask questions,” said Nevius.

The district said it will provide remote learning for families who want to stay home. Community members, however, said reopening schools is only asking for trouble.

“Schools can’t control lice, can’t control pink eye, can’t control whooping cough. How in the hell are they going to control this virus?” said Dan Martin, a longtime resident.

“The problem is that you need children to stay alive and janitorial staff to stay alive and teachers to stay alive and administrative staff to stay alive so that we don’t spread it out further into the community,” said Lilly Park, who has lived in Kittitas for 12 years.

The district said the Washington State Department of Health would have to approve its petition to reopen for any number of students. In the meantime, the superintendent said the plan is to learn remotely. People who live in Kittitas said distance learning should have been the only plan.

“Try to think about our neighbors. Got to think about kids, the old folks which I’m one of them now,” said Martin. “We have got to protect ourselves, we got to protect our people and our kids.”

“Have a heart. You’re protecting the whole community. This is America. Have a heart,” said Park.

Whether old or young, people in town said they want a healthy community. McGuffin and Nevius said they believe a healthy community is still possible even if they’re back in class.

“Use common sense—wash your hands, use a mask when appropriate,” said McGuffin.

This district said it is working closely with local DOH representatives on how to move forward for the fall semester.