Southern Heights Elementary School
11249 14th Avenue South Burien, WA 98168

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Beginning the Year in Full Distance Learning

Beginning the Year in Full Distance Learning

Highline Public Schools announced today it will start the school year in distance learning, with this message to families from Superintendent Susan Enfield.


As we get closer to fall, I know you are anxious about what school will be like come September. I have been fiercely hoping to have our students back in our schools this fall. We know our students miss school, and we miss them.

I know that each of you faces a unique set of circumstances. If I could, I would make a plan that addresses each of your individual situations. In reality, that is not possible. As the leader faced with many diverse and competing interests, the very best I can do is find a way forward that has the least negative impacts on the most--and most vulnerable--people. 

I have been talking daily with the superintendents of neighborhing districts. After reviewing all the data and feedback, we all believe that the best course of action is to begin the school year in full distance learning. 

I realize this decision is a relief to some and a hardship for others. It is not a decision I wanted to make, but I feel compelled to do so based on a number of factors, including:

  • Infection rates in King County are predicted to get worse before they get better.
  • Over 35% percent of our staff identify as being in a high-risk group for COVID infection.
  • Nearly 29% percent of teachers live with someone in a high-risk group.

As the person who ultimately bears responsibility for the health and safety of our students and staff in our schools, I cannot in good conscience open schools for in-person instruction in September.

It is too early to predict how long we will remain in distance learning. We will monitor infection rates and rely on public health guidance to determine when we can safely reopen school buildings. When we can, we will move into our hybrid model

We have learned from your feedback and our experience last spring, and our Academics workgroup is developing an improved distance learning program that includes:

  • Live instruction
  • Virtual small group support
  • Broadband internet access to more families, with the support of our city governments
  • A digital device for every individual student

We recognize that distance learning cannot fully meet the needs of some students with special needs, and we are evaluating the extent to which we can safely provide therapeutic services to students who need them.

Since we will offer distance learning as an option after hybrid learning starts, we have decided to postpone the opening of Highline Virtual Academy until Fall 2021. This allows us to fully focus on refining our distance learning program now and gives us the opportunity to thoughtfully develop a permanent high-quality, challenging online school for Highline students who thrive in this environment.

I know you have many more questions. We may not have the answers to them all at this moment, but know that we are working on it—working extremely hard, with a deep sense of responsibility to you and your children.

We continue to post updates to our FAQs. We will also host two webinars on August 11 and hope to have answers to many of your questions then. We will send invitations and links in a Family Update this week.

We all hoped this pandemic would be under control by fall. No one is more frustrated by that than I am. I want to assure you, though, that nothing will dampen our commitment to know every student by name, strength and need, whether we are face-to-face or at a distance. 

Stay well.
Susan