Eastlake High School became the first school in Sammamish to switch to remote learning Wednesday after a severe staffing shortage erupted due to the rapid spread of COVID-19.
Officials from Lake Washington School District (LWSD) made the announcement on Tuesday evening, outlining a plan to keep the school closed to in-person instruction until at least Jan. 21.
Staffing woes forced the district to close its high schools one by one this week. Lake Washington High School switched to remote learning on Sunday night. Redmond and Juanita announced their closures on Monday.
Eastlake was the last major high school in the district to make the switch, after a plan to concentrate the district’s substitute teachers at Eastlake failed to fill the gap.
With the omicron variant pushing cases and hospitalizations to record highs in King County, the impact has been profound. The day before the school closed, 22 teachers, or about 17% of staff, were absent due to “COVID-related quarantines, general illnesses and other absences,” said Shannon Parthemer, LWSD’s communications director.
That same day, only 5 substitute teachers showed up at Eastlake, according to a teacher who was notified of the staffing situation.
These shortages have left many more classes vacant at Eastlake than what the substitute teachers could cover and also led to lack of “staffing resources to adequately contact trace positive COVID cases,” said Chris Bede, Eastlake’s principal.
In addition, Bede said 531 students were absent that day — about one quarter of the school.
The sudden switch to remote learning has been disruptive not only to classes, but also student activities. Eastlake announced that all student clubs will be switching to remote meetings for the time being.
As for sports, competition and practices on Wednesday were canceled, and schedules could be in flux for at least the next week. Pat Bangasser, Eastlake’s athletic director, said the best place to check for the most up-to-date sports schedules would be the website Arbiterlive.com.
For home games that do take place, only parents of Eastlake athletes will be able to watch in-person, while students will be banned from attending to cheer on the athletes.
Eastlake will continue to provide school lunch while the campus remains closed. Families who request meals via an online form can pick up 5-day meal packs outside the school, according to a newsletter sent by the school.
Parthemer said the district is actively working to resolve its staffing shortage by certifying student teachers and other community members as emergency substitutes, and expediting the hiring of 20 floating teachers. But these efforts take time.
With Eastlake closed, all eyes are now on whether other schools in Sammamish could close. On Thursday, Eastside Catholic announced that it will also temporarily switch to an online modality during its final exam period from Jan. 18 to 21.