Another district has announced plans to reopen for in-person learning. The Redmond School District in central Oregon will begin opening to students on February 2.
“We have so many students who have not done well in distance learning,” said Superintendent Charan Cline.
“Many of our most vulnerable students, the people that don’t have good access to internet…or don’t have help at home to help them through, we know they’re falling behind. This is an opportunity for us to bring kids in and work on getting them back on track.”
Like other districts, such as nearby Bend-La Pine Public Schools, the Redmond district has tried to bring back students several times, but high case counts have kept the school doors from reopening.
Gov. Kate Brown’s recent announcement changing school reopening metrics from “mandatory” to “advisory” has allowed Redmond and other districts to reopen for students, despite being in counties labeled “extreme risk” by the Oregon Health Authority.
Both Brown and Cline say there is increasing evidence of low COVID-19 transmission rates in schools.
“We’ve seen across the world how schools can reopen with rigorous health protocols in place,” Brown said Friday during a press conference.
“We also are increasingly seeing evidence that transmission rates in schools are quite low compared to other settings, in part due to the strict health and safety protocols that schools are expected to employ,” said Cline in a statement announcing the reopening plan.
When students go back to school in February, they’ll start with an orientation to teach health and safety protocols and how to be in a school that will look a lot different from what they’re used to.
“Even your senior in high school will never have been in a school where their movement was restricted so much, and where they didn’t have the ability to go off campus to get something to eat,” Cline said. “It’s going to be a much more restrictive environment so we can control the spread of disease inside the school.”
For in-person students, the district will implement several measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19, including mandating face masks, social distancing, and on-site rapid COVID-19 testing.
Students will be in cohorts, meaning they will interact with fewer students.
The following week, the district expects students in kindergarten through fifth grade to be at school in-person full time. Middle and high school students will learn in a hybrid format, going to school in-person two days a week and at home the other three days.
For students whose families aren’t ready to return to the physical classroom, the district will offer a school at home program.
The district says students who fail to comply with health and safety requirements will be referred to online learning.
Brown’s announcement leaves reopening largely up to local districts, and other Oregon districts have already moved forward with reopening plans too, including Lake Oswego, Bend La-Pine, and Klamath County.
An outside legal opinion solicited by OSBA said some school districts may not be legally protected from COVID-19 related lawsuits if they reopen. Cline said district leaders are assessing the risk with their attorney, but Redmond schools remain set to reopen.
“We’ve had schools operating all year long across the state of Oregon without liability insurance, so there are people in this situation, and we’ll draw off of their knowledge,” Cline said.
School districts in Southwest Washington are also planning a return to in-person learning: Both Evergreen and Vancouver schools this week announced intentions to return to hybrid learning in late January.