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Tacoma schools could resume some in-person classes at end of September

If coronavirus trends hold, Tacoma Public Schools could send kindergarten and first and second grade students back into the classroom Sept. 28.

TACOMA, Wash. — Tacoma Public Schools could resume some in-person classes by the end of September.

The school district released a tentative plan Tuesday to begin a hybrid model of remote and in-person learning. The plan is contingent on coronavirus activity and whether Pierce County meets targets set by the county and state health departments.

As soon as Sept. 28, students in kindergarten and first and second grade could have four days of in-person classes with remote learning on Wednesdays, according to the district’s plan. Preschool students would return in cohorts on a reduced schedule.

As soon as Oct. 12, students in third, fourth and fifth grades could return to two days of in-person classes with three days of remote learning. These students would have in-person instruction either on Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday.

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As soon as Nov. 2, middle and high school students could resume in-person lessons under the same hybrid model as upper elementary students.

To execute this timeline, Pierce County will consider several metrics, including coronavirus case rate, the rate of positive tests and the trend of new cases and hospitalizations.

Between Aug. 24 through Sept. 7, Pierce County recorded 57.8 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents, which qualifies as “moderate” coronavirus activity, according to the Washington state Department of Health (DOH).

Under moderate activity, DOH suggests elementary students can begin to return to in-person classes and “over time” middle and high school students can begin a hybrid model. The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department recommends schools interpret “over time” to mean at least 21 days to accurately track coronavirus trends.

Students in upper elementary, middle and high school will learn in cohorts, because classrooms are not large enough to accommodate all students with 6 feet of distance, according to the district. Lower elementary students can have more in-person instruction, because they struggle the most with distance learning, are at a critical stage of development and appear to transmit coronavirus less, according to Dr. Anthony L-T Chen, director of health for the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

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On Tuesday, Washington state reported another 327 coronavirus cases. That brings the confirmed cases up to 80,465. The Department of Health reported nine additional deaths, bringing the state death toll to 2,015.