COOS COUNTY ─ After the New Year, many students are heading back to the classroom for in-person learning.
School districts across the county made announcements Wednesday regarding these plans, providing a quick response to Gov. Kate Brown’s loosening of the metrics last week.
“It was somewhat a surprise to receive information on Dec. 23, as many districts were on winter break,” said Tenneal Wetherell, superintendent for the South Coast Education Service District which provides support to schools up and down the South Coast. “…Each district is making their own decisions on when and how to return (to the classroom). Most districts are communicating with families this week and making the decision to return to in-person instruction as they were before the winter break.”
Most of the grades included in plans to return to school are kindergarten through 5th grade. Wetherell said in-person offerings for students in middle or high school will come later once individual districts see how local COVID-19 metrics are impacted by the holidays.
“It’s important to note that the safety metrics required before the governor changed direction are still required,” Wetherell said. “We will have more students in school and have safety measures in place, so those have not changed.”
In the Bandon School District, Superintendent Doug Ardiana announced the return to in-person instruction for kindergarten through 5th grade Jan. 5.
“This is based on the loosening of the metrics, declining (COVID-19) numbers in the Bandon community, and what we feel is best for our students,” Ardiana said. “I believe all of us – students, staff, teachers, and parents – all believe on-site learning is best for kids and are excited to have kids back on campus.”
That being said, Ardiana does anticipate another increase in COVID-19 numbers due to the holidays. However, Gov. Brown’s easing of state restrictions on school districts allows administrators flexibility.
Wetherell explained that flexibility as how a district can respond to increasing COVID-19 numbers.
“...(Districts) can make the decision on what to do with an individual building,” she said as an example. “And if there is a great deal of community spread, we may see a return to (Comprehensive Distance Learning) for a short amount of time.”
The Bandon School District is also initiating limited in-person instruction for grades 6 through 12.
“This is where the shop teacher needs to have five kids come in to demonstrate their welding skills, to work for an hour or two,” Ardiana said. “Or this might be a special education student who needs extra help with reading or math and will come in for two hours.”
For the Coquille School District, Superintendent Tim Sweeney announced the plan to gradually open classrooms back up in a letter to staff and parents.
In an interview, Sweeney said that pre-k through 6th grade will return Jan. 4 for partial days.
“It will be exactly how they finished before winter break, on the partial schedule,” he said.
Though the state has put the burden on school districts to decide for themselves how to follow COVID-19 metrics, Sweeney pointed out that other regulations are still in force. One such regulation is to keep 35-square-feet between students, which means – for the Coquille School District – not all students can return at once.
“On Jan. 11, junior high students will return and Winter Lakes high School will have students in school,” Sweeney said.
Then on Jan. 19, Coquille High School students will be back in school for partial A and B days.
“Elementary school is doing the morning and afternoon shifts, while the high school will have the A days and B days,” he said, adding, “I hate to call this ‘normal’ because we can’t have them all back at the same time. This is just a step closer to where we want to be, but this will be the most students we’ve had since March 13.”
In the Coos Bay School District, Superintendent Bryan Trendell said the governor’s announcement will not change anything.
“We are planning to come back (to in-person learning) Jan. 4 with our kindergarten through 3rd grade,” he said. “Everyone else (will be) in distance learning.”
Trendell hopes older grades will be able to return to the classroom, too, but that decision hinges on case numbers.
“What the governor announced doesn’t take away the fact that case numbers may be impacting our schools we’re not going to be careless and bring kids back to school just because we can,” he said. “We will take a good look at it and work with the local public health authority and work with our neighboring districts to come up with a good, solid plan that is good for our kids and staff and community.”
Trendell said these changes being seen at the state level increases the difficulty for school districts to make decisions regarding in-person instruction. Before the governor’s announcement, he said “the state having requirements … we were able to follow those and decisions were easy to make. Now those decisions, in my mind, are easy to make but as long as we continue to do our safety protocols and not see the spread of the virus in our buildings….”
For Trendell, he hopes the county doesn’t see a jump in COVID cases similar to the spike after the Thanksgiving holiday.
“I’m hopeful we will get to a stretch in January and February where we’re doing the right things and case numbers go down and have more conversations about bringing kids back to in-person instruction,” he said.
He added that, overall, he believes this is a good move by the state.