Crook Co. middle, high schoolers to return full time Jan. 26

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Ending a 10-month state-mandated separation, Crook County’s middle and high school students will return to the classroom full time starting January 26th.

Superintendent Dr. Sara Johnson made the announcement on Thursday calling it a “monumental moment for our school district.”

“Our goal since September was to open our schools and provide in-person instruction as long as public health experts said it was safe, and our team has proven that it’s possible to serve students successfully during a pandemic,” she said, adding that Crook County is one of the first districts in the state to return all students full time.

Students in grades K-5 have been attending school full time since September, along with the district’s two rural schools in Paulina and Brothers.

The Hybrid Learning Campus at Pioneer, which serves high school students, will continue with a hybrid model where students attend morning or afternoon sessions in-person and then learn online the rest of the day.

Johnson said in a statement the decision to move to full time was made easier when the Crook County Health Department announced a plan to provide vaccines to any school district staff member who wants one.

A vaccine drive is scheduled for January 25th at Crook County High School, which is the day before middle and high school students return full time.

The second round of the vaccine will occur 28 days later, according to the health department.

School Board Chairman Scott Cooper said the return to in-person learning was not something the board took lightly.

“The facts and the science say schools may not be the hot spots we feared early on. Public health and federal, state and local leadership are supportive of reopening,” he said. “The majority of our constituents want schools open. The majority of our staff are telling us that not being open is compromising learning and is making teaching difficult. The board has listened, and the board supports the reopening plan.”

The success of safely operating during a pandemic is owed to the district’s strict adherence to a list of safety measures that is followed daily in every school:

  • Masks required at all times for students and staff
  • Temperature checks of students at the front doors every morning
  • Limited class sizes with at least 35 square feet available per student
  • Students assigned to specific cohorts (groups) to limit interaction
  • Desks sanitized between each class
  • High-touch areas cleaned daily by custodial staff
  • Improved airflow with a “full-flush” every hour

The school district also developed a COVID-19 Safety Plan with the Crook County Health Department that outlines how staff and school nurses respond when someone is exposed to the virus or tests positive.

Nurses partner with the health department to conduct contact tracing and make decisions about potential quarantines for students or staff.

Transparency is also key with personalized phone calls to families if a child is exposed and needs to quarantine, and the school district will begin publishing a weekly COVID-19 Metrics Report every Wednesday to outline activity in all buildings and schools.

“I believe our planning and protocols serve as examples to other school districts that it’s possible to safely have students in school. We’ve been serving students since September, and no case of COVID-19 has originated or spread in any of our schools. We take a very conservative approach and are overly cautious, and it’s proven extremely effective,” Johnson said.

She said the district recognizes not every parent is comfortable with schools reopening and some families may want to take a wait and see approach.

There are two online options available – Grizzly Mountain HomeLink and Crook County Online Option – that allow students to stay enrolled in the district and still access building resources, tutoring, and technology support.

“The board’s philosophy is that we work with parents to find what’s best for students and families on an individual basis. District and building leadership are happy to meet with any parent who has a concern or who needs help crafting a reasonable alternative learning plan that will lead to quality education while offering peace of mind,” Cooper said. “COVID-19 is a Brave New World for all of us, and we hope parents and community will work collaboratively with us to find the best way forward, even if it takes a few tries.”

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