This fall, only the youngest students in the Bend-La Pine Schools district will go back to their brick-and-mortar classrooms, but COVID prevention protocols will begin the minute they step on the school bus. Most local students will not come to campus at all. At least, that's the latest word as of this writing; most who follow the issue know things can—and have—changed many times.
- Laurel Brauns
- Lora Nordquist is the Bend-La Pine Schools' interim superintendent for the 2020-2021 school year. The BLPS board voted to promote her to the position for one year and put the search to find a new superintendent on hold during the pandemic.
On July 28, Gov. Kate Brown announced a set of new rules and metrics that Oregon school districts must follow to offer in-person instruction. The announcement made BLPS' previous pandemic plans obsolete overnight.
In order to reopen school buildings to students, Brown's metrics require that counties must have 10 or fewer COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents during the previous three weeks. Deschutes County had 54.6 cases per 100,000 for the week ending July 25.
Another school requirement is that for every person who takes a coronavirus test in the county, only 5% or less of those tests may come back positive in a seven day period. The same applies at the state level. Over the last weeks in July, the statewide positive test rate was 5.9%, 5.4% and 5.1%, according to the Oregon Health Authority. In Deschutes County, the positive test rate was 3.4%, 7.5% and 4.6%.
The rules are less strict for students in kindergarten through third grade, so as of press time, BLPS aims to offer a hybrid in-person / online program for these students, according to Lora Nordquist, Bend-La Pine Schools interim superintendent.
"We believe that our youngest students learn best in three dimensions, with ongoing adult support as they learn not only academic subjects, but basic social-emotional skills that are best learned in person," Nordquist wrote in a statement to parents.
For younger students and staff that do come to school, everyone in the building will wear masks, except those with medical exceptions. Students will stay 6 feet apart and no more sharing crayons. In some cases, office staff might set up plastic barriers at their desks or just wear large, clear face shields throughout the day.
The state's blueprint for opening schools
In June, the Oregon Department of Education—in partnership with Gov. Kate Brown and the Oregon Health Authority—released a 47-page book of guidelines for the 2020-2021 school year, to help schools create their own "blueprint" for reopening. As the guidelines were updated throughout the summer, BLPS continued to adjust. Its final plans will need to be passed by the BLPS board, then reviewed by Deschutes County Health Services and finally sent to ODE.
The Jefferson County and Culver School districts were, as of late July, planning for both in-person and distance learning scenarios. Brown's orders make some exceptions for rural school districts, and Culver is one of the smallest in the state with only 675 students.
Before Brown's July 28 announcement, the BLPS district planned to have all middle and high school students in come in for classroom instruction at least a few days a week.
Under July 28 guidance, students in grades 4 through 12 will adhere to a structured online program from home where they'll have daily contact with their teachers, regular feedback and graded assignments.
With parents, teachers and students all on the same online learning platform (Canvas for middle and high school, Google Classroom for elementary), it will be a different experience than Spring 2020, Nordquist said. Teachers will get extra training in online instruction this summer and they'll put all students assignments in one place, which will keep everyone on track, she said.
The BLPS district has more than a decade of experience with online education. In 2006, it began offering Bend-La Pine Online for K-12 students. During the 2018-2019 school year, the program served more than 4,000 students, with 700 who received the bulk of their instruction online only. This program is still an option, but most students will likely stay enrolled in the school's primary learning program this year where they will stay engaged with the district's standard curricula.
"Remote learning keeps kids connected to their local school, teachers and classroom community," the district's website states. "When in a remote learning setting, students will be engaged in activities and projects directly related to their in-class instruction and course outcomes."
Nordquist said the pandemic has presented some great opportunities, particularly for asynchronistic learning, or participating in class activities at different times then other students.
"This spring many teachers made videos of individual lessons," she said. "Now a student who might be too shy to ask a question in class, they can access that video [and learn at their own pace]. Also some teachers provided a variety of assignment options online to increase engagement. This is something that could be great all the time."
Bend-La Pine Schools Return to School FAQ