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By Jana Hill
Mill Creek Beacon Editor 

Prepping for closer contact

Mill Creek schools consider subtracting 3 feet of distance


Last updated 4/2/2021 at 5:40pm

Jana Hill

Students at Seattle Hill Elementary await the start of class this spring. The district and other Mill Creek area schools are considering whether to move desks closer together, after a loosening of restrictions by Gov. Jay Inslee.

Changes to physical distancing are on the table as Mill Creek schools take in more onsite students, but no changes are being made to the safety level of the virus.

Gov. Jay Inslee's office announced an optional shift from 6 feet to 3 feet kindergarten to 12th grade classrooms, in a March 26 press conference. As the distancing change is considered, plans to bring back high school students are already set.

Glacier Peak started its hybrid-education program March 29, and Jackson High School is preparing to bring students onsite April 19. Elementary students returned at both Mill Creek area school districts in February.

Archbishop Murphy High School started back to hybrid ahead of public schools, due to the space-to-student ratio being well-fit for that change, said Alicia Mitchell, school principal. AMHS opened to a daily onsite option, March 1, and will shift to a 3-foot distance without the wait.

As for the freedom to soften the rules on social distancing, both public school districts are in discussion-mode.

"We have not made any decisions or changes at this time," said Kristin Foley, communications, on the 3-foot rule. Foley is director for the Snohomish School District, which serves students at Glacier Peak High School and Valley View Middle School, as well as Seattle Hill, Cathcart elementary schools. As for how the re-opening has gone, "since Feb. 1 there have been eight positive cases involving individuals in our school community," Foley said. All cases are reported to the Snohomish County Health District, she said.

Everett Public Schools is also paused on any changes to its COVID-19 safety protocols.

"District leaders are in ongoing discussions with association leaders regarding safety protocols," Superintendent Ian Saltzman said in a letter to the community. He said the district needs to determine how it will impact scheduling at all grade levels.

The change in distancing requirements is based on CDC recommendations, but stops short from a blanket 3-foot rule. It suggests that interactions between adults and kids remain at 6 feet, and adds nuance to distancing recommendations.

The 6-foot distance is still advised for gathering spaces and anytime masks cannot be worn, the proclamation states. The CDC recommends any activities that require singing, yelling or exercise "where increased exhalation occurs" be moved outdoors or to large, well-ventilated spaces.

The proclamation says health care professionals have seen evidence of increased mental and behavioral health as a result of the isolation that came in with the pandemic. That health impact led to difficulties engaging with virtual learning, the proclamation states.

Since the pandemic began, pediatricians have observed increases in mood disorders, suicidal thoughts, self-harm behaviors, sleep disturbances and substance abuse, the proclamation states. Even those without a usual tendency toward mental health challenges have been impacted.

Jana Hill

Students attend a class in the Archbishop Murphy High School library where the 3-foot distance option is already being implemented.

"A significant number of previously stable youth have experienced now-onset or exacerbated eating disorders, depression, or anxiety, with some requiring increased use of medications, hospitalization, or other higher levels of care," the proclamation states.

"At Providence Regional Medical Center, we have seen a 6% increase in our inpatient admissions with behavioral health diagnosis. And, we believe we were able to avoid the need to have patients be admitted to the hospital through the opening of our Behavioral Health Urgent Care, which opened November 2019," said Cheri Russum, Senior Communication Manager for Providence St. Joseph Health.

As the 3-foot rule is considered, vaccinations are continuing to occur. The end-of-March goal set by President of the United States, Joe Biden, has been nearly achieved at Everett Public Schools. The majority of staff is vaccinated, allowing the Everett Public Schools to bring back more students, Saltzman wrote. AMHS has vaccinated most of its staff as well, Mitchell said.


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