Eastside News

Hundreds rally in Lake Washington SD, protesting district’s decision to keep students home

REDMOND, Wash. — Hundreds of parents and students rallied in Redmond on Monday, right outside the Lake Washington School District headquarters.

The district announced in conjunction with the Lake Washington Education Association late last week it won’t be bringing back 6th to 12th graders at all this school year, bringing parents out to passionately voice their concerns.

“Open schools now!” the crowd chanted.

The hundreds at the rally are demanding that the school district reconsider its decision and provide more transparency of the thought process.

Many parents at the rally said their students are struggling.

“It’s a really tough time,” said Jody Issacson, one parent at the rally.

Students there agreed remote school was taking a big toll on their learning.

“I’m in AP chemistry,” said Katie Coote, a junior. “It’s hard to not have that communication with the teachers and the students,” she said.

The challenges extend beyond academics.

“It’s pretty lonely because I don’t really get to talk to people that often because some of my friends don’t have phones,” said Reagan Miller, a 5th grader at the rally. Fifth grade students are scheduled to return to a hybrid model on March 18, pushed back nearly a month from initial plans released to parents.

But people at the rally said they were surprised when the district announced last week students 6th to 12th grade would not be returning at all this school year.

“It was very disappointing,” Coote said. “My sign says, ‘What about us?’ because I feel like we as students don’t have a lot of representation about the subject,” she said.

“It was sort of a punch in the gut that it was ‘decided’,” said Meghan Mead, a parent of a senior and a sophomore.

“It’s gotten everybody upset and angry and just frustrated. And feeling this place of helplessness,” Issacson said.

Both students and parents then took their concerns inside to the district’s first in-person school board meeting and spoke directly to the board and superintendent.

“My oldest son has become a recluse,” said one parent, emotional. “He doesn’t even get out of bed,” she said. “Keep in mind all the lonely, depressed, suicidal, bored kids that are sitting quietly at home. Keep them in mind please,” the parent said.

Another parent said his son was still doing well academically and would be considered one of the “successful” students of remote learning by the district.

“My son is not okay,” the dad said. “He doesn’t leave his room. He needs to be beckoned to the classrooms. I want my son back. I want to see him smile again, I want to see him laugh again,” he said.

Dr. Jon Holmen, the Lake Washington School District superintendent said during the board meeting that the state’s current guideline requiring six feet of distancing in classrooms makes a full time return for all students impossible – simply because of the space.

“We can’t provide full in person learning services for 100% of our students with that one measure in place,” Holmen said.

He also said in a video to parents that as a parent of a senior himself, he knows many students are having a tough time.

“I also agree with many of the comments, the anger, the frustration,” Holmen said in the video. “The secondary decision has been one of the hardest decisions of my career,” he said.

The district said a few of the reasons why they were not bringing older students back even part time this year was because of challenges in “cohorting,” or keeping students to a limited bubble of students, because of the changing classes and teachers.

The superintendent also mentioned that secondary teachers are older; they’re only certified to teach their specialty subject; that the district had concerns concerned about switching students schedules and habits dramatically so close to AP exam season; and that the disruption would impact some students’ track to graduating.

The superintendent also said in the video that some students were excelling in the remote learning style.

“We have students that have reported increase in anxiety and depression while we had other students reporting to us that they had increased positive outlook and success during this last year,” Holmen said. “Others felt very positive and pro social,” he said.

The comments also drew ire from some parents.

“You countered the fact that some kids are suffering with the claim, some kids are doing ok. I was appalled. And I found it profoundly offensive,” one parent said at the school board meeting.

During the public comment period, some parents said they’re so worried about their students they’re considering leaving the district.

Superintendent Holmen also added while the district wants to bring everyone back in the fall of 2021, he said if the health requirement of 6 feet of distancing stays is still in pace they’ll have to operate under some sort of hybrid model.

Holmen said he will be meeting with the WA State Department of Health on Wednesday and hoped to have more details after that meeting on the 2021-2022 school year.