Bend-La Pine Schools plans to return to its traditional start times this fall and intends to be “all in, all grades, five days a week,” Interim Superintendent Lora Nordquist said Tuesday.
“We learned how to do it,” she said during a school board meeting. “We’re confident we’ll have lower case rates as vaccinations continue to occur so we’re ready to go all in.”
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown gave school districts some good news earlier in the day Tuesday, saying she would lift many COVID restrictions when 70% of the state was vaccinated.
Until then, some COVID restrictions would be eased in counties that reach 65% vaccination rates – which Deschutes Co. could reach next week.
“That is very exciting news,” Nordquist said. “What that means for our outdoor graduations – we will be at low (risk) – which allows us to have more in-person guests.”
Beyond this year, Brown said she anticipated schools would return to a more normal routine this fall as vaccination numbers climbed.
To limit the number of kids on buses at any given time, Bend-La Pine had drastically altered the classroom schedules when students returned to in-person learning earlier this year.
Those schedules will return to normal this fall with middle and high schools once again running from 8:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.
That’s a big change from the current schedule, which has most of the district’s middle schools operating from 10:35 a.m. to 4:10 p.m.
Most elementary schools will return to an 8 a.m. start time and let out at 2:30 p.m.
“At the middle schools, that will be a huge benefit to families. The late start time this year has been very, very challenging,” Nordquist said. “We are not going to continue that next year.”
Nordquist said there will be changes to the state’s COVID rules for school districts, but she expects masks will still be required for students and staff when the new year begins.
Some social distancing will be necessary this fall, but likely won’t be as strict as it is now.
Meanwhile, the opening of Caldera High School this fall will help ease some of the crowding happening now in the other high schools, she said.
Moving 650 students to the new campus “will provide some breathing room in all our high schools, so that’s a wonderful thing.”
Nordquist said about 600 Bend-La Pine high school students received their first dose of the COVID vaccine at the clinics held at the schools recently.
Additionally, she noted 40% of the eligible 16 to 19-year-olds have received at least their first dose of the vaccine.
“That is a very encouraging number, I was surprised to see it that high,” she told the board.
And with news this week the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for those 12+, Nordquist said the district will look at working with health partners to host clinics at middle schools when students aren’t there.