Parents scramble after Tacoma Public Schools abruptly cancels return to in-person learning

Parents with kids enrolled in the South Sound’s largest school district are now scrambling after learning a planned return to in-person instruction for this coming Monday had been cancelled.

The Tacoma School District sounded the alarm Thursday evening, saying some staffers first need to be fitted and learn how to properly wear an N95 mask but that means nearly 3-thousand preschool, kindergarten and special needs students and their families had to abruptly change their plans.

“He sits underneath that staircase,” Aspen Strothers said, describing the desk her six-year-old son Noah has been using during distanced kindergarten classes.

Twenty four hours ago his mom told Noah that on Monday he would be attending classes in person. It was a promise she would have to break when the school district cancelled the plan.

“It’s even confusing for grownups, kiddo,” said mom Megan Kilpatrick, describing the moment when she told her son in-person classes were cancelled. 

“It feels like decision making around this has been reactive,” she said.

“I can’t imagine how hard it is for our families going through these changes,” said TPS Superintendent Carla Santorno during a school board meeting Thursday night.

During the meeting district officials revealed some staff members would need to be trained and be individually fitted for an N95 mask.

“We want our students and our staff to be safe and we’re committed to a slow reentry of students with strict adherence to the safety guidelines,” said Santorno.

The district says it has enough PPE for staffers and efforts are underway to train and help employees who need an N95 mask.

But for families like the Strothers, they wonder if pushing their kids to in-person learning might ultimately endanger the same young people health officials are trying to keep safe.

“We’re still waiting at line in grocery stores,” said Aspen. “Is my child really ready to be around 21 other people all day?”

New guidance crafted by workgroups represented by multiple state agencies, local labor and public school administration is expected to be released in the coming weeks which detail how school health officers may respond when a student or staff member falls ill.