Students across Central Oregon returned to school last week, haunted for another academic year by the COVID-19 pandemic.
But they start the 2021-22 academic year, the third school year affected by the coronavirus, inside classrooms instead of working from home as they did a year ago.
Schools shuttered to in-person instruction as the pandemic spread to Central Oregon in March 2020, and many stayed at least partially closed for most of the 2020-21 school year.
Firm precautions are in place as schools reopen. Gov. Kate Brown announced in July that in order for schools to resume full-time in-person instruction, masks will be required indoors at K-12 schools statewide. The governor also announced that all school staff are required to be fully vaccinated against the virus by Oct. 18 or six weeks after full approval of a coronavirus vaccine by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
In Redmond, students in grades 2-6 and ninth graders were welcomed back Sept. 7. All other students returned Sept. 8 except kindergartners and first graders, who will gradually return over the next couple weeks.
Bend-La Pine Schools, Central Oregon’s largest school district, opened to all grades last week.During a press conference Sept. 7, Colt Gill, the director of the state Department of Education, said a few Oregon schools have already closed or delayed the start of the school year due to student and staff quarantines. He said families should make a plan in case children need to miss school.
“Because of the health and safety measures we have in place, our schools can be safe spaces for students and staff,” Gill said. “We have proven it in the past, but we all have to take a part in making that statement true. The more we all do our part to limit COVID-19 spread in communities, the more we can protect our students in and out of school. Please make a small personal sacrifice to do what you can to make the school year a success. This means wearing a mask even when you don’t want to, or getting vaccinated.”
The Oregon Department of Education and Oregon Health Authority issued school health advisories last week that will remain in effect statewide until Oct. 1.
The state advises all eligible youth and adults who come in contact with school-age children to get vaccinated against the virus.
Educators and families with school-age children should limit gatherings and nonessential activities with people from other households. When visiting with people from another household, it is advised to wear a mask, maintain a physical distance of 6 feet and keep activities outdoors as much as possible.
The state said that to the extent possible, schools and other organizations should reduce extracurricular activities and consider holding activities, including meals, recess, physical education classes, music and choir, outdoors to maximize physical distancing.
Schools are also advised to hold start-of-school events like open houses and meet-the-teacher nights online instead of in-person.