BFHD Recommends Hybrid Learning
Posted on 09/17/2020

What does this mean for me?

We love our children and we want the best for them. We at the Health District understand the challenges presented by having schools on a reopening plan that looks differently than what happens in a traditional school year. We live and work here too, and are facing the same challenges as the residents of our great communities. As your public health experts, it is our duty to make sure that not only the educational, social, and emotional needs of our local children are met, but also that we are following scientifically sound guidance from medical experts on how to keep our community moving forward in the safest way possible during a pandemic.

Benton-Franklin Health District employees have been working closely with leaders of our local schools and districts on reopening plans since early spring. In July, Health Officer Dr. Amy Person was asked by the schools for guidance on how and when to safely reopen. Dr. Person issued a strong recommendation for school districts to begin with distance (online and remote) learning for the safety of the students and adults in the schools as disease burden was considered too high, which means risk of contagion and spread is also high. Her recommendation was in alignment with the guidance published by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and the Washington State Department of Health (DOH). 

One of the metrics we are evaluating is disease burden and recommendations (not requirements):

Remote Learning: cases greater than 75 per 100,000 residents over a 14-day timeframe

Hybrid Learning:
(some in-person and some remote learning): cases are between 25-75 per 100,000 residents over a 14-day timeframe

In-person Learning
: less than 25 cases per 100,000 over 14 days

Schools had and still have the final decision on when they choose to open for
hybrid and in-person learning with the safety guidance provided by the Health District, DOH and OSPI.

On September 1, most of Benton and Franklin Counties’ schools opened for remote (synchronous and asynchronous learning) and online (asynchronous with coaching) schooling. Some private schools chose to open fully.

What is Benton-Franklin Health District's current recommendation?

On September 14, Dr. Amy Person sent a letter to school administrators in Benton and Franklin Counties recommending local schools and districts begin planning for implementation of hybrid learning as early as October 1 for Benton County and the North Franklin School District. Pasco School District and all other schools in Franklin County should plan for implementation on hybrid learning as early as October 15. Hybrid learning consists of some in-person instruction of a portion of the school’s student population partnered with some remote learning. Full, in-person instruction has not been recommended at this time.

In addition to monitoring our case rate, Dr. Person is looking at all impacts to children's health now and into the future based upon the decisions we make now. There are good times of year to start hybrid and there are times that are not ideal. Some schools are in areas with subsidized lunches and for some students, this meal is extremely important. Being around peers and focusing on social and emotional learning is healthy for our bodies. This is a multi-layered decision, much more than just the case rate.

High risk individuals are still encouraged to work or do schooling from home.

The numbers still seem too high? Is this recommendation early?

Daily case counts are based on when cases are reported to the DOH. Although we post them on the day they're reported for the convenience of providing a daily number for our community, they consist of specimens that were collected as recently as the day before, to up to two weeks ago, depending on when the provider sent the specimen and when it was finalized by the lab.

The DOH then takes these daily counts and spreads them throughout the previous days depending on when the specimen collection. This "Case Rate" is how our # per 100,000 residents over 14 days is calculated. BFHD has the added benefit of access to numbers sooner than the DOH reports, so their "preliminary" numbers have a longer lag time than we can see in the data.

Benton County has met the metric based on specimen collection date and the case rate been trending lower over time. Franklin County is on track to meet the metric by mid-October.

What are the next steps?

School boards are meeting soon to decide next steps on the hybrid recommendation and will be making announcements to parents/guardians of students in the near future. BFHD will continue to monitor disease activity and trends to watch for significant changes in case rate and will be a resource for sanitation guidance and outbreak mitigation.

Families who are not comfortable with the hybrid recommendation are encouraged to continue to work with their individual teachers, schools, and districts on ways to continue their children’s’ education in a way that works best for them and their circumstances.