By TED TAYLOR
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
Bend-La Pine Schools will begin the year online, but district officials promise a more robust and consistent distance learning experience this fall for its 18,300 students.
School board members voted unanimously Friday after an emergency meeting where they heard a COVID update from Deschutes County Health Information Officer Heather Kaisner.
The school year also will begin a few days later on Monday, Sept. 14th.
They will reevaluate the COVID situation every six weeks to determine the rest of the school year.
“It’s our worst-case scenario, but prepare K-12, to start school online,” said board member Stuart Young. “There’s no way our education online will look the same as when we had to throw the switch on the weekend (in the spring.)”
Earlier this week, Gov. Kate Brown and state health officials announced new health metrics counties must meet before students return to class.
Counties need to see fewer than 10 COVID cases per 100,000 people and have a 5% or less test positivity rate for three weeks in a row.
Deschutes County currently has about 54 cases per 100,000 and a 4.6% test positivity rate. It hasn’t come close to meeting the metrics for the last three weeks, Kaisner said.
It would need to see three weeks of fewer than 20 cases a week for three weeks to have a chance to reopen.
Interim Superintendent Lora Nordquist said she was happy the state handed down some actual figures on which to base a decision.
“I am personally grateful for metrics,” Nordquist said. “It gives us goals as a community to shoot for in shared responsibility,” as opposed to sticking a finger in the air and asking “What do people ‘feel’ we should do?”
BLP was the last of the local districts to announce its plans for this fall.
“The hope was maybe our numbers would improve,” said board member Carrie Douglass. “We haven’t been waiting to make a decision just for the heck of it.”
Earlier on Friday, Crook County announced it plans to have students in grades K-3 return to the classroom in September.
“I want the community to know we have a great team preparing this and we have five and a half-six weeks.
We’ve got a gem of an opportunity to work together on this.” — Stuart Young, Bend-La Pine School Board Member
Crook County currently meets the exception to Brown’s health metrics, which allows for younger kids to return to school if cases fall below 30/100,000
On Thursday Redmond and Sisters both announced plans for a comprehensive online learning model and set some dates they’d look at COVID data and reevaluate. Jefferson County announced similar plans earlier this week.
Board members talked about what it would look like with some students returning to class and asked about a scenario many have wondered about: What if one student in a classroom comes down with COVID-19?
The answer, Kaisner said, is everyone in that classroom would need to quarantine at home for 14 days – despite any testing that might take place during that period.
Hearing concerns from numerous parents over the summer, Nordquist wanted to assure everyone the online model this fall will be different.
“We learned a lot from this spring and school districts around the nation learned a lot,” she said.
New this fall, all K-5 students will work on the Google Classroom platform with some continued social interactions on Seesaw.
Middle and high schoolers will use the Canvas online learning platform.
Any “face-to-face” online interaction will happen via Webex.
This plan simplifies a situation last year where multiple platforms were being used by different teachers at different schools.
“I want the community to know we have a great team preparing this and we have five and a half-six weeks,” Young said. “We’ve got a gem of an opportunity to work together on this.”
And some good news for many middle and high schoolers: letter grades will return this fall, Nordquist said.
Technology-wise, Nordquist said they’ve ordered more iPads and have secured 500 additional hot spots for the year.
“We will be ready to get those in families’ hands before school starts,” Nordquist said.
They’ll be sending out surveys to parents on a school-level in the coming weeks asking about access to technology and internet access.
The decision now allows parents time to put together a plan for the beginning of the school year.
Some families will need to work with school districts on technological barriers that might exist.
And for many, it will mean completely rearranging work schedules to accommodate in-home, online learning and daycare situations.
Board members and Nordquist discussed taking a bigger role in the area’s childcare situation, but no plans were set.