Peninsula schools set to open Monday on schedule despite snow, COVID surge

Posted on December 31st, 2021 By:

Students in Peninsula School District hoping for an extended winter break should curb their optimism, at least as things stand now.

Despite winter weather conditions resulting in accumulations over the past week of up to a foot of snow in some areas of Gig Harbor and Key Peninsula, classes will begin Monday as scheduled, district spokeswoman Aimee Gordon announced Friday in a notice to families and staff.

At this point, district officials are expecting that warmer temperatures and rain starting Sunday will result in improved road conditions, and no late start is planned, Gordon said. But she advised families to stay tuned for any changes as transportation officials monitor roadways and weather conditions over the weekend.

The snowy front of Peninsula High School

The snow, like that surrounding Peninsula High School, is expected to melt in time for a return to school on Monday. Ed Friedrich / Gig Harbor Now

The National Weather Service predicts a low of 18 degrees tonight, New Year’s Eve. But things will begin to warm up Saturday, New Year’s Day, with a predicted high of 38 degrees and a low of 35 degrees overnight into Sunday. The rain arrives Sunday and continues into Monday and Tuesday. Sunday night’s low is predicted to be 36 degrees, warming to a high of 42 on Monday.

Transportation Director Pam Roland said roads in the Gig Harbor area are in good shape and should be fine by Monday. The Key Peninsula, with its remote and hilly roadways, is of greater concern, but Roland is optimistic.

“It seems to me that the meteorologists have gotten it right through this week. What they’ve predicted has basically come true. So, I’m expecting that by Monday, this will mostly be washed away,” she said. “The main roads are all great. Some of the back roads, the shaded areas are going to need rain. Otherwise, I don’t think it’s going to remain too icy simply because it’s supposed to warm up pretty well above freezing by Sunday.”

Buses parked at Peninsula School District's snowy bus barn

Transportation staff will help evaluate road conditions over the weekend to make sure school can start on time. Ed Friedrich / Gig Harbor Now

Transportation staff who live out on the Key Peninsula will help evaluate road conditions over the weekend, Roland said, and the district will let families know no later than 8 p.m. Sunday if things change and a two-hour late start is needed.

District officials are also alert to the spike in COVID-19 cases likely spurred by the highly contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus. Pierce County experienced a roughly tenfold increase in the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 between Dec. 11 and Dec. 23, according to the Washington State Department of Health.

“Like so many of you, we have been monitoring both the weather and the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation,” Gordon said. “At this point, we are planning on school being open on Monday, Jan. 3, but we encourage you to keep checking email and our website for updates.”

The palm tree beside Gig Harbor High's message board is covered with snow.

The palm tree beside Gig Harbor High’s message board is covered with snow. Ed Friedrich / Gig Harbor Now

Gordon said the district is preparing for the possibility of staffing shortages, but at this point classrooms will remain open five days a week.

“Despite the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, neither the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) nor the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) have required any of our schools to close or transition to remote learning. We plan to continue to operate fully in person, while also preparing for potential staffing challenges as a result of the increase in COVID-19 cases,” she said.

Recent changes in guidance from the CDC regarding shorter isolation and quarantine times don’t apply at this time to K-12 schools in Washington state, Gordon said.

The Department of Health updated its guidelines after the CDC’s rule change cutting in half the recommended isolation time from 10 days for people with COVID-19 to five days, if they don’t have symptoms on day five, followed by five days of wearing a mask around others.

For those exposed to COVID-19, the DOH recommends unvaccinated individuals, and those who are more than six months out from their original mRNA doses (Moderna and Pfizer) with no booster or more than two months from the J&J shot with no booster, should quarantine for five days followed by strict mask use for another five days.

A steep, snow-covered road leading to Peninsula School District's bus barn

On Friday, the street up to Peninsula School District’s bus barn and the buses themselves remained covered in snow. Ed Friedrich / Gig Harbor Now

Vaccinated individuals who have received their booster do not need to quarantine but should wear a mask for 10 days after exposure, per the DOH and CDC.

The state has not updated its requirements and guidelines for K-12 schools, Gordon said. So current protocols, listed on the district’s website, will remain in place.

“When we receive additional guidance and requirements from the DOH as it relates to the K-12 education setting, we will share any changes that will be made to our practices at that time,” she said. “As we begin the new year, we join our local health authorities in urging everyone to recommit to fighting the spread of COVID-19.”

Gordon advised families to regularly check their email and the district website for updates.

“Additionally,” she said, “if there are changes to any schedules due to our current snowy weather, we will share those on our website, ParentSquare (family email list), and official district social media platforms.”