By BROOKE SNAVELY
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
Why are schools in Sunriver and La Pine closed when COVID infection rates in those communities are a fraction of what the county is dealing with?
John Ciolero wants to know why schools in Sunriver and La Pine are closed when these areas represent about 5% of COVID cases in Deschutes County.
“Why are we jeopardizing our kids and their future with a shut down to the schools?,” Ciolera asked. “We are 30 miles away from Bend and the metrics are entirely different here and have been since the onset of this crisis. Why are we staying closed?”
That’s a great question for the governor, says interim Bend-La Pine Schools Superintendent Lora Nordquist.
“As a district we don’t have any flexibility to open some of our schools and not open others,” Nordquist said. “The metrics established by the state put all of Deschutes County in one bucket, so whether you live in La Pine or Sisters or downtown Bend, we have the same metrics we have to abide by and we don’t have flexibility to open our schools right now.”
According to the Deschutes County Health Department, 7.1% of people taking COVID tests test positive.
The rate of infection is even worse per 100,000 residents, placing local schools far into the red zone that requires comprehensive distance learning to keep students and teachers safe.
However, the schools–including La Pine and Sunriver–are providing some limited in-person instruction to about 10 percent of their students.
“That allows us to bring in small groups of students, cohorts no larger than 20. They can’t be there longer than 2 hours at a time,” Nordquist said. “We identify students who are in the most need academically or socially or maybe really need that adult support to help do work or have someone to talk to.”
Ciorelo says La Pine area students are suffering due to the school closures.
“They’ve always suffered by being in a more rural environment. To jeopardize them even further by shutting down our schools when it’s not warranted by the numbers, seems unfair.”
So why, then, are school buses still rolling?
“If you see a bus with a few students on it, they are being delivered to a school from that limited in-person instruction. We are providing transportation for that,” Nordquist said.
School buses that appear empty, except for the driver, are probably delivering meals, another service schools continue providing.