RICHLAND, Wash.-- Fourth and fifth grade students in the Richland School District will return to on-line only learning after the Thanksgiving holiday break.

The board reviewed the latest COVID-19 metrics, along with metrics related to the challenges of staffing enough substitutes to fill in for teachers who either get sick or must go into quarantine.

Dr. Shelley Redinger said the district is actively working to recruit more substitutes.

The board voted 4 to 1 to return the older elementary grades back to distance learning, with Board Member Kari Williams casting the only dissenting vote.

Superintendent Dr. Shelley Redinger brought some concerns to the board about staffing, and the district's strategy for filling in the gaps due to COVID-related absences.

"I think it would behoove us to pull back a bit to give our schools a chance to get a handle on everything, and then later bring back fourth and fifth grades," Redinger told the board. "I saw a huge change in our system when we brought back 3rd, 4th, 5th back at the same time."

The strain on meeting staffing challenges prompted the administration to consider other alternatives, such as pulling all the teachers involved in specials, like music and P.E., to help fill in for subs, but that would create additional problems.

"I hate to recommend that we pause something that we've worked so hard to achieve, but I think it would be in our best interest," Redinger said.

Wednesday is an all virtual day of learning leading into the Thanksgiving break, so non-IEP/special ed students in the fourth and fifth grades will resume distance learning on Monday after the holiday. Pre-K, Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades will continue with the current schedule.

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