If someone had told you one year ago that, at the dawn of the 2020-21 school year, your kids would be headed to their neighborhood schools this fall, but that instead of teachers leaning over their shoulders all day, it would be parks and rec recreation staff, you would have probably laughed out loud. One year ago, parents would have scoffed at the notion that schools were not safe enough places to send their kids for all-day instruction, but that they were safe enough for all-day, glorified after-school programming.
My, what a difference a year makes.
- Darris Hurst
- A version of this week's Source Weekly cover, in which we re-imagined the "Poltergeist"movie tag line, "They're Here," to apply to the current situation of parents with kids at home—indefinitely, it seems.
As a story in this week's Feature section details, Bend Park and Recreation District, along with other groups such as the Boys and Girls Clubs, are, at the dawn of this school year, moving from being among the area's largest after-school childcare providers, to the area's largest all-day childcare providers. While it's tough to fault BPRD for moving to fill this gap in care created by Gov. Kate Brown's school-reopening metrics, one has to begin questioning the direction in which our public institutions are heading.
Right now, Deschutes County's COVID-19 numbers are inching closer to Gov. Brown's levels that could allow schools—especially K-3 students—to go back to school in person, at least part-time.
But strangely, rather than fill school buildings with any and all public school students ready to go back in person, school buildings will be populated by students whose families have applied for a spot in the BPRD program, and have either applied for a scholarship to pay for it or have committed to paying the $200 a week the program costs. Elsewhere, families with means are renting spaces for their own learning pods or are convening at private homes or in private learning centers to ensure their kids are supervised—and supported—during the school year. The inequity of the situation is enough to give any taxpayer pause.
While leaders at Bend-La Pine Schools have said they are working within the governor's guidelines to offer support for those students who may need it, via a Limited In-Person Instruction program that they'll announce this week, that extra support is only going to amount to two hours a day. It's not enough for our region's most vulnerable children.
We understand that BLPS is facing an incredible dilemma in trying to adhere to the governor's guidelines and to, at the same time, manage the many and varied opinions of families it serves. We commend Bend Park and Recreation District for its ability to act relatively quickly to expand a program that will offer some relief for parents and additional support for students. But amid all of that is the sinking feeling that our region's kids—and mostly, our region's most economically disadvantaged—are getting the short end of the stick. Even if the BPRD program were completely free, it will only serve between 20 and 40 students per school—in buildings where normally, 500 to 600 kids, or more, would be going.
We hope to see BLPS act with intention and vigor to get the kids whose families need them to be back in school buildings. Those whose families elect to keep them home will continue to have the option to get educated via online programming. But for those for whom school is a lifeline—to food, to companionship, to a quality education, free of the stresses and distractions of home—we hope to see Bend-La Pine Schools continue to partner with third parties such as BPRD to do as much as possible, and to do it quickly, until all of our region's children are getting an equitable education. Our kids can't wait.