1/13/20, 4PM: This story has been updated with information on Redmond schools, and a push by some Bend teachers to allow teachers the opportunity to get vaccinated before returning to school buildings.
That was the reaction from a mother of two students in Bend-La Pine Schools—one of thousands of students in the district who have not been inside a classroom since March—after receiving the news Thursday that students in the district would begin to return to in-person instruction as early as this month.
In an email Thursday morning to families, Superintendent Lora Nordquist announced that students in the district would begin returning to classrooms as early as this month. Bend-La Pine students in grades K-3 will return to classrooms five days a week starting Jan. 25; students in grades 4 and 5 will return two days a week Feb. 1, and students in grades 6-12 will return two days a week starting Feb. 8, on the first day of the new school term. On days they're not in classrooms, students will continue to receive instruction online.
Prior to their return to classrooms, students will engage in orientation weeks for "safety and classroom protocols orientation." In elementary schools, part of that orientation will include teaching kids how to wash their hands. To allow for physical distancing, classrooms will be at about 50% capacity.
The return to classrooms is in keeping with Gov. Kate Brown's announcement last month that the metrics around students' return to school would be "advisory" rather than "mandatory."
To help districts plan and manage both distance and returns to in-person instruction during this pandemic school year, the Oregon Department of Education issued its "Ready Schools, Safe Learners" guidance for the 2020-21 school year. The document dictates that in-person instruction come with requirements that include face coverings, cleaning and disinfecting and maximizing airflow and ventilation in buildings.
- Alexandra_Koch 1234 Images/Pixabay
- Bend-La Pine students in grades 4-12 will be in classrooms two days a week starting in February.
Tracking a post-holiday spike
While Brown's latest edict allowed districts to make their own choices regarding reopening as of Jan. 1, BLPS opted to begin its transition to in-person instruction until later in January, when case numbers are expected to go down after "post-holiday spikes."
"Bend-La Pine Schools has successfully hosted limited in-person instruction since October, serving approximately 1,800 students, about 10% of our total student population," Nordquist wrote. "Sisters School District and Crook County School District, both within 30 minutes of our district boundaries, have successfully hosted in-person instruction since September."
What if there's an outbreak?
With COVID-19 vaccines not expected to be fully distributed for many more months, at least some transmission of the virus in school communities is highly likely.
Redmond returns Feb. 2
In the Redmond School District, all students will start attending classes in person on a hybrid basis the week of Feb. 2. As in other schools, students will be required to wear masks and practice social distancing, and will attend class in small cohorts, RSD officials announced Jan. 8. Redmond students will also have a full-time online option.
Teachers press for vaccinations before opening
On Jan. 11, a group of 47 teachers and classified staff from Summit High School in Bend sent a letter to BLPS’ superintendent, asking that the return to school come only after all teachers and staff have had the opportunity to be vaccinated. With Gov. Brown’s targeted date for all students to return to school being Feb. 15, she announced Jan. 12 that educators and people over the age of 65 would begin receiving vaccinations Jan. 23, after federal officials announced they’d release more doses rather than storing them.
“Nailing that Feb. 15 vaccination target, which seems optimistic, would be great,” Summit teacher James Williams told the Source via email. “But we should wait to return in person until vaccinations have been offered to all staff. (Of course the actual process takes time—getting both shots, weeks apart, and waiting for them to do their thing is approximately a month-long process—so technically we'd be looking at an early March return, depending on how soon we can get those first jabs.)”
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