Nearly 7,500 students in Redmond, Tumalo and Terrebonne won’t return to classrooms until Nov. 2 at the earliest.
Redmond School District, the region’s second-largest school district, will keep students at home to start the 2020-21 school year, according to Superintendent Charan Cline. This decision was made after Gov. Kate Brown unveiled new, strict metrics for reopening schools last week while the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
“With our current infection rate, we have to start with online learning,” Cline said Thursday.
Brown’s new metrics for reopening schools require counties to have 10 or fewer COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents and 5% or fewer positive tests per week. The state must also have 5% or fewer positive tests as a whole. As of Saturday, July 25, 5.1% of statewide tests were positive, according to the Oregon Health Authority.
The rules are less strict for kindergarten through third-grade classes, where classrooms can reopen if their home counties have 30 or fewer COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents over seven days.
As of July 19, there were 54.6 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in Deschutes County, according to the Oregon Health Authority.
Like Redmond, school districts throughout Oregon were forced to change their fall education plans. Some still hope to teach students in classrooms, while others are creating instruction plans that include distance learning.
Redmond School District
Distance learning will look radically different than it did this spring, said Cline, who took over Redmond schools on July 1.
Redmond students will use a new online curriculum used by hundreds of thousands of students nationwide, Florida Virtual School. Despite its name, local teachers will still be educating students in Oregon-approved curriculum, Cline said.
The school district will also require teachers to interact more frequently with students via video or phone chat — at least once every other day, Cline said. School specialists such as counselors will also be more involved, attendance will be kept and students will receive grades, unlike the spring.
The school year will start two days later than originally planned, on Sept. 10, to allow for extra training for teachers, Cline said.
Redmond school leaders will reevaluate local COVID-19 numbers every six weeks to see if schools can reopen safely. Families will know whether or not students can return to classrooms for late fall by Oct. 16, Cline said.
Cline said he sympathized with parents who will be frustrated with keeping children at home for another couple months.
“This isn’t something we’re particularly happy about, either,” he said.
Crook County School District
Crook County School District is in an advantageous position compared to its neighbors in Deschutes and Jefferson counties.
In the week of July 25, only 2.6% of COVID-19 tests in Crook County returned positive. And the county’s case rate per 100,000 people has stayed below 30 for all of July so far.
Because of this, Superintendent Sara Johnson believes in-person classes could resume for the district’s 3,070 students by September.
“We’re hoping that things get better by the time it’s time for kids to come,” she said Wednesday.
But Crook County school leaders aren’t taking any chances. The district has spent this summer developing a robust at-home learning plan in case COVID-19 cases don’t diminish.
Families would receive district-approved curriculum for their children as well as frequent support from teachers, Johnson said. This will be available as a choice for any student this fall, even if classrooms reopen, she said.
The district has also ordered more internet hotspots for the 9% of Crook County families who don’t have internet access, to remove barriers to learning, Johnson said.
If COVID-19 numbers dip enough to bring Crook County students back into buildings, middle- and high-school students will have tweaked schedules, with fewer periods per day and elective classes. This way, these schools can have smaller class sizes and students can more easily stay in a consistent cohort, to prevent spreading the virus, Johnson said.
Sisters School District
Nothing is final, but it’s unlikely that the approximately 1,100 students in Sisters schools will return to classrooms in September.
“If I’m looking at Deschutes County data, right now at least, it only leads you to one potential: comprehensive distance learning,” Superintendent Curt Scholl said Thursday.
The district’s original plan was to have K-6 students in school full time, with older students in a hybrid model.
Sisters school leaders will further examine local COVID-19 numbers and release a detailed, official plan for the fall next week, Scholl said.