Why school has been canceled at Kimball Elementary for the past three days

by Ari Robin McKenna


When the Seattle Public Schools (SPS) mass COVID-19 screening flagged seven of their co-workers last Monday, Kimball Elementary School staff knew they had been there for a week. A tight-knit group that enjoys a strong relationship with their Parents, Teachers and Students Association (PTSA), the staff at Kimball prepared.

As the week progressed, Kimball — in southeast Seattle and serving 75% of students of color — was without one teaching assistant (IA) after another, along with several teachers and an administrator. By the end of the week, Kimball was down six AIs. School staff in Seattle have been exhausted by factors such as a nationwide shortage of substitute teachers, the challenges of teaching students to return to school in person after such a long break, and unrealistic pressure to “catch up with their delay”. Yet, with the entire system in crisis, throughout the past week Kimball staff have approached their true breaking point.

Kimball’s music teacher and Seattle Education Association (SEA) union representative KT Raschko described the staff’s still-determined ethos in the halls of the Van Asselt Building, where Kimball is housed during construction of his new building:

“People were trying so hard. Just seeing everyone trying to say, ‘We’ve got this! We can do it!’ To see people literally running down the hall with a walkie-talkie trying to get from one end of this huge school to the other, because someone is in crisis and there is hardly any support . If you’re with a walkie-talkie, you know you’re one of the only people who can make it happen, and you’re just going to reserve it in that hallway to try and make it happen if that helps.

Although the will was there, Raschko began to notice that with each additional absence, things became untenable and began to take their toll. “What I saw on the faces of my co-workers… they just felt overwhelmed by the number of things that were falling on them. They weren’t going to be able to have lunch because they were going to have to replace someone else. They weren’t going to have time to run to the bathroom because they had to cover recess for someone who was away. They weren’t going to go and make the copies they had planned during their prep time because they were going to be supervising something else for another colleague who was away that they had never done before, but they were going to try to fill in because they knew that with 10 people out of the building, we all had to try and pull extra weight, and no one wanted to let the whole house crumble.

Raschko says that despite the best efforts of Kimball staff, two different students at two different times — both receiving special education services — escaped the building and found themselves in dangerously dangerous situations on the busy streets that wind through. cross at the corner where Van Asselt is. . At this point, while still motivated to educate their students and do it well, cracks in their collective resolve began to form.

The busy intersection of Beacon Ave South and South Myrtle St in front of the interim Van Asselt site, where Kimball Elementary School is located until their new building is completed. (Screenshot from Google Maps containing data from TerraMetrics.)
Original location of Kimball Elementary School at 23rd Avenue South and South Hanford streets. (Screenshot from Google Maps containing data from TerraMetrics.)

Preventing students who tend to repeatedly run away from their school buildings is a complex challenge for staff that is relatively unfamiliar, but not uncommon – especially in a school like Kimball with educational pathways Special Access, Resource and Focus SPS. A 2018 peer-reviewed study titled “Assessing and Treating Escapism in the School Setting” states that it occurs in “34% of people diagnosed with intellectual and developmental disabilities and in about 49% of people diagnosed with developmental disabilities. autism spectrum”. Effective teams of teachers and RNs are working wonders in buildings across the country to mitigate this significant risk, but in Kimball’s case, down to six RNs – who service the majority of teaching plan hours. individualized students – doubts emerged at special education “check-in” meetings whether they could prevent another occurrence.

Ana Radzi, a mother of three Kimball students and a member of the PTSA committee, has also served as a substitute teacher at various schools since last May. She says she is blessed to have worked with great AIs and quickly realized how valuable they are to the school community. “IAs are so undervalued and undervalued… others don’t realize their importance – especially in settings where students are receiving special education services – to have that other person there to help you. You may have students running away, throwing things or throwing tantrums and you need to be on your toes at all times, always keeping your eyes open. If you don’t have that extra support, it’s a very big security issue.

With no subs coming from the district, Raschko said teachers were left wondering on the weekend, “When did that call come in? How many people have to be out before someone says enough is enough? How many people do they think we need to run this building? How many people will it take before they realize we can’t hold it all together? »

Kimball Elementary students return from mobile classrooms near the new Van Asselt Interim building, crossing in front of the old Van Asselt building. (Photo: Ari Robin McKenna)
Van Asselt seen from Beacon Avenue South. Kimball educators are concerned that students will arrive safely without being supervised by AIs. (Photo: Ari Robin McKenna)

Last Friday, after careful consideration of the impact on families, the COVID-reduced Kimball staff made the difficult decision to best serve their families by asking the District to step aside. “Not being able to promise our families that students are safe when they come to school is…heartbreaking doesn’t even begin to be the right word. He feels wrong saying that we are ready to teach our students when we cannot even guarantee our families that the school is safe right now,” Raschko said. The staff wrote a letter to the district that afternoon, and when they hadn’t heard back by Saturday, they wrote another one to their families. Additionally, Kimball teachers filed labor and industry forms alleging an unsafe workplace and collectively took sick leave that Monday. When asked if she supports this action as a parent, Radzi replied, “I feel like the teachers at Kimball are always going to be thinking of the kids. It’s a shame they felt they had to resort to this; some teachers don’t even have sick leave anymore.

Recently, the district announced 8 criteria to provide a degree of transparency as to when schools will be moved away.

Kimball’s 20% student absence rate last week (up 12% from the school year average), puts them well below the district’s 50% mark for students in the primary before distance learning was considered. Another district criterion reads, “The percentage and mix of vacancies in a school create unmanageable operational and/or safety risks.” Although Kimball staff experienced this last week, the district did not consider meeting this criterion alone sufficient reason to move to requested remote learning, and instead canceled school on Mondays, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week; these days will have to be made up at the end of the year.

District spokesman Tim Robinson said “the numbers are not at the point where a transition to remoteness would be initiated.” Of the decision to cancel school at Kimball for three days, Robinson added: ‘Schools are canceled when there are staffing issues which may make it unsafe for pupils – i.e. say not enough adult supervision… It’s a somewhat fluid situation so things may change day-to-day. Staffing issues at Kimball and other schools are assessed daily, sometimes two or three times a day.

Before 3pm yesterday afternoon, teachers at Kimball were told they would be receiving seven substitutes for today and in-person learning would resume. Raschko said she felt “relieved.”

Radzi, who had to cancel her subassignments for the past three days because she didn’t have daycare for her four children, said, “It’s a ripple effect for the community. So now that I’m not working and taking my assignment the school I was going to be a sub in they’re gonna be stretched cause the sub shortage is real.”


Editor’s Note: This article has been revised to remove the term “flight risk” to avoid implying criminal behavior among students. We have also revised a reference to unprecedented student behavior to avoid blaming the students. The Emerald thanks readers for pointing out these missteps and giving us the opportunity to correct them.


Ari Robin McKenna worked as an educator and curriculum developer in Brooklyn, NY; Douala, Cameroon; Busan, South Korea; Quito, Ecuador; and Seattle, WA before moving to South Seattle. He writes on education for the Emerald. contact him here.

📸 Feature Image: The busy intersection of Beacon Avenue South and South Myrtle Street in front of the temporary Van Asselt site, where Kimball Elementary School is located until their new building is completed. (Photo by Ari Robin McKenna)

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