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A Return to In-Person Instruction... Mostly

Bend-La Pine Schools announces a return for K-3 Jan. 25; all students will head back at least part-time by Feb. 8



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.

"This made me cry—I'm so happy and so are the kids!"

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."

"It has become clear that when community spread is reduced and schools follow required health and safety protocols, there is low risk of transmission and illness when students resume in-person instruction," Brown wrote in a letter Dec. 23.

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.

"This plan to reopen schools is based on current state and public health guidance and levels of COVID-19 within our community," Nordquist wrote in her letter. "While we have developed a phased-in plan for all students K-12 to return to in-person learning, we are prepared to delay the return of older students, if necessary. We need the support of our entire community as changes, including increased community spread, would mean a need to reassess and potentially change our plans."

Bend-La Pine students in grades 4-12 will be in classrooms two days a week starting in February. - ALEXANDRA_KOCH 1234 IMAGES/PIXABAY
  • Alexandra_Koch 1234 Images/Pixabay
  • Bend-La Pine students in grades 4-12 will be in classrooms two days a week starting in February.
While families will have the option to return their students to in-person instruction, they also have the option to enroll in the Bend-La Pine Schools Online program, which has been in existence for the past 10 years.

"Families who wish to enroll students in Bend-La Pine Schools Online should do so by Jan. 15 (for grades K-5) and Feb. 8 (for grades 6-12)," Nordquist wrote. "If families enroll in Bend-La Pine Schools Online, they may be able to transition back to a brick-and-mortar school where space is available in the future."

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.

"In some cases, staff and students may be sent home, or stay home, while contact-tracing takes place," Nordquist stated. "This can take place with little notice and is case dependent. Families will need to remain flexible about child care, should a school, cohort, or classroom be required to temporarily close and families should have a back-up plan in case their student(s) are unable to attend in person as planned. All our students have iPads to support short-term distance learning, if necessary."

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.)” 

See related PDF BLP_TransitionPlan3_Chart_010621.pdf

About The Author

Nicole Vulcan

Nicole Vulcan has been editor of the Source since 2016. While the pandemic reduced "hobbies" to "aspirations," you can mostly find her raising chickens, walking dogs, riding all the bikes and attempting to turn a high desert scrap of land into a permaculture oasis. (Progress: slow.)

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