By TED TAYLOR
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
All kids…in class…every day.
Those are the words many parents have been hoping to hear for more than a year now after COVID restrictions turned education upside down last March.
But this morning, the CDC relaxed social distancing rules for classrooms.
And this afternoon, Bend-La Pine Schools announced plans to take advantage of those new rules and have all students back in class full time by April 12th.
“We believe that by proactively planning ahead for a change to Oregon’s Ready Schools, Safe Learners Guidance, we can give families more time to begin making adjustments to their own planning,” Interim Superintendent Lora Nordquist said in a letter to parents.
Nordquist stressed the plan is contingent on the Oregon Department of Education following the CDC’s lead with updated guidelines in the coming weeks and having that update in place by March 30th.
The change? Students can now sit as close as 3 feet to each other – cutting in half the previous restrictions and opening up more classroom space to bring in more kids.
“CDC is committed to leading with science and updating our guidance as new evidence emerges,” said CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky. “Safe in-person instruction gives our kids access to critical social and mental health services that prepare them for the future, in addition to the education they need to succeed. These updated recommendations provide the evidence-based roadmap to help schools reopen safely, and remain open, for in-person instruction.”
Bend-La Pine’s plan is below.
In a news conference Friday morning, Gov. Kate Brown said the state has been committed to aligning with CDC recommendations and ODE and OHA are reviewing the new guidelines.
“We’re hopeful,” said Sheila Miller, the public information officer for Redmond Schools. “This is a great first step. It’s helpful for us to be able to try and have those students in full time.”
COVID cases in Deschutes County have been steadily declining for the last seven weeks, but jumped again slightly last week.
Meanwhile, more than 48,000 residents have had at least their first dose of the COVID vaccine.
Last week Central Oregon school district superintendents sent a letter to Brown urging her to make some change to current COVID restrictions so all the region’s students can return to full-time, in-person instruction.
Specifically, the superintendents wanted to reduce the physical distancing requirements to align with the World Health Organization – and now the CDC – eliminate the 35-square-feet per person requirements for room capacity and expand the 100-person limit for individual school contact.
Earlier this week the ODE announced it was doubling the 100-person limit for individual school contact, but it stopped short of making any other changes.
Local students have been back in the classroom both in-person and in a hybrid model since late February.
In Bend-La Pine, K-3 students are already back to full-time in-person instruction while 4-12th graders are back in their classrooms two days a week.
Under the current plan, all K-5 students would be back in the classroom by April 5th.
Nordquist said distance learning options would still be available to parents who aren’t comfortable sending their kids back to the classroom.
The CDC said in its statement Friday, “given the crucial services schools offer and the benefits of in-person learning, it is critical for K–12 schools to open and remain open for in-person instruction, as safely and as soon as possible. Schools should be the last settings to close because of COVID-19 and the first to reopen when they can do so safely. Working together, school leaders and community members can take actions to keep schools open for in-person learning by protecting students, teachers, and school staff where they live, work, learn, and play.”
Many local parents cannot wait for their kids to return to the classroom full time.
“I believe most of my friends and families are nearing a breaking point – our children need full-time in-person schooling and the emotional impacts will already be felt for years,” said Bend resident Dave Holland, who has two young daughters at REALMS Middle School. “Enough Oregon – bring back full-time schools – we prioritized vaccines for teachers and it’s time.”