Interim La Conner Schools Superintendent Rich Stewart is getting quite familiar with distance learning. 

So, too, is U.S. Rep Rick Larsen (D-Everett). 

This meeting last Wednesday morning had them climbing their respective learning curves both literally and figuratively as they compared notes on public education and COVID-19 while maintaining six-foot social distancing outside the La Conner School District Office building. 

Stewart shared how school staff have adapted to the pandemic and what the district’s plans are for the upcoming academic year with the 10-term congressman, who co-chairs the Congressional School Safety Caucus. 

“I’m not afraid of change,” Stewart told Larsen, as his history of specializing in interim administrative work proves. He has served 19 school districts over a 46-year career. 

But this year brings a whole new level of change due to COVID-19 and the need to start school with on-line instruction due to health and safety concerns, Stewart said. 

“It’s not great for families,” he said. “It puts a ton of pressure on families. But it’s preferable to starting (with in-person instruction) and then having to quarantine, like what happened in Georgia.” 

La Conner Schools is providing opportunities for parents and families to train with the on-line learning platforms the district is using this year, said Stewart. 

Stewart said the district has developed draft daily schedules and attendance policies for remote learning and is sharing those on the La Conner Connect web page and weekly series of video-conferenced town hall sessions. 

He said La Conner Schools is also setting up a hybrid instructional model, blending distance learning and in-person instruction, for use once the virus wanes. That transition would happen mid-year at the earliest, Stewart said. 

It is, he indicated, the ultimate example of being in uncharted territory. 

“Nobody has gone to full-time on-line school before,” said Stewart. 

Funding issues add to the uncertainties as government at all levels grapples with revenue shortfalls related to the virus. 

Larsen said federal school funding is a major topic in the current logjammed COVID-19 relief negotiations between the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. 

He said one stumbling block is insistence by some lawmakers that no federal dollars be released if schools do not open for on-campus classes. 

“The negotiations are not going well,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean they’re not going.” 

Larsen said he is working to make sure schools and students have the resources needed to stay safe and meet urgent needs such as cleaning and protective equipment and broadband access. 

After his meeting with Stewart, Larsen met with Anacortes Schools Superintendent Justin Irish.