Brown targets Feb. 15th return to class; districts to make final decision


Gov. Kate Brown on Wednesday directed state health and education leaders to launch several new policies in the coming weeks hoping to get Oregon’s elementary school students back in class by the middle of February.

Among the requests is making the state’s current health metrics for a return to class “advisory” rather than “mandatory” beginning January 1st.

“Moving forward, the decision to resume in-person instruction must be made locally, district by district, school by school,” Brown wrote in her letter to Oregon Education Director Colt Gill and Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen.

Most Oregon students have been out of the classroom since early March when the COVID pandemic started to take hold across the United States.

Since then, school districts have grappled with distance learning efforts with varying success while parents juggled schedules and students missed out on important face-to-face interactions with teachers and friends.

“Moving forward, the decision to resume in-person instruction must be made locally, district by district, school by school.”
Gov. Kate Brown

The state dangled a carrot in front of parents this fall by releasing more lenient health metrics, but cases in Deschutes County spiked right after the announcement. 

The governor now wants Oregon school districts and counties to have the flexibility to reopen schools based on the COVID situation in their own backyard.

“In addition to schools continuing to adhere to required health and safety protocols and working in close consultation with their local public health authority in understanding and considering the metrics, teachers, school staff, parents and students should be engaged in this decision-making process to allow schools to make the best choice for their community and their students,” she said.

“Today’s announcement from Governor Brown will not help return students safely to Oregon’s classrooms – it will simply continue what has already been months of confusion and uncertainty for Oregon’s students and educators.”
– Oregon Education Association President John Larson

Redmond School District Superintendent Dr. Charan Cline welcomed Brown’s announcement.

“The Redmond School District is eager to have kids back in school as soon as it is safe to do so, and we know that studies are showing transmission of COVID-19 is rare in schools,” he said. “With Governor Brown’s revision of the public health metrics to advisory instead of mandatory, we now have the ability to start a path toward reopening our schools.”

And in a letter to parents late Wednesday, Bend-La Pine Interim Superintendent Lora Nordquist said they’ve been planning for in-person instruction for months.

“I started connecting with district and association leaders this afternoon and will continue to expand the conversation to others over the break, as we determine specific dates for our phased-in return, based on this new information,” she said.

But the state’s teacher’s union was less than thrilled with the timing of Brown’s announcement during the holidays, saying it will “only result in an increasingly disparate patchwork of return plans throughout the state’s public education system.”

President John Larson said 70,000 educators and the families of 580,000 students “now must spend the holidays trying to understand what these changes mean for their lives and livelihoods.”

“Today’s announcement from Governor Brown will not help return students safely to Oregon’s classrooms – it will simply continue what has already been months of confusion and uncertainty for Oregon’s students and educators,” he said.

Brown said the nearly $140 million in state and federal resources dedicated to school reopening “put this goal within reach for school districts if communities continue to work together to stop the spread of COVID-19 over the next several weeks.”

She shared some good news on Tuesday, sharing that the post-Thanksgiving spike many had feared did not materialize.

Local cases, although higher than they have been since the pandemic began, are once again starting to decline.

In a statement, Brown said both the Legislature and Congress have dedicated new resources for safe school reopenings in 2021, including an additional $50 million approved during Monday’s special session to support schools in the transition to in-person instruction.

In addition, the legislature also passed legislation during the special session that protects schools from COVID-related lawsuits.

“As 2021 approaches and we look to the remaining school year just over the horizon, it is clear that the greatest gift we can give to Oregon’s children this holiday season is to redouble our efforts to act responsibly and reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our communities,” Brown said. “Our students’ learning, resilience, and future well-being depend on all of us.”

On Wednesday Brown said Oregon educators and child care providers would be prioritized in the next wave of COVID vaccines.

In her letter to the ODE and OHA, she directed the agencies to work with schools to “provide on-site, rapid testing as a safeguard to quickly address symptomatic individuals and those with potential exposure to COVID-19.”

Brown pointed to Washington state where “advisory metrics” have allowed more schools to reopen.

“As our neighbors to the north have demonstrated, this does not mean schools can resume in-person instruction without regard for COVID-19 spread in the community, but instead should carefully consider the metrics in their local context, the needs of students and families, and readiness to implement health and safety protocols,” she said. “As we move into a new year, we must all rise to the challenges that COVID-19 presents and prioritizing our children is most urgent.”

You can read Brown’s full letter to the ODE and OHA below.

12.23.20_Schools Letter_final

2nd round of Oregon COVID vaccines to prioritize teachers, child care providers


The second wave of Oregon’s COVID vaccine efforts will prioritize teachers and child care providers, paving the way for a more widespread reopening of schools, Gov. Kate Brown announced Tuesday.

“Our kids need to know they are number one, and that we’re doing everything we can to get them back in the classrooms,” Brown said in a virtual news conference. “Educators and school staff are without a doubt essential to Oregon, and getting our kids back into the classroom is crucial to all of our success.”

Brown and Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen met with the media to give an update on COVID and the vaccination efforts underway across the state.

The governor applauded Oregonians for heeding the call to limit social gatherings over Thanksgiving saying the efforts and two-week freeze “blunted the surge.” She encouraged them to do the same at Christmas and New Year’s.

“I hope you all heard that: thanks to the decisions you, and the majority of Oregonians continue to make, we are slowing the spread of this disease. And while our case counts are still up, we are avoiding many worst-case scenarios,” she said. “This is proof that we determine – we determine – how the next few months play out while we work to swiftly distribute the COVID-19 vaccine far and wide.,” she said.

Cases were down 11% last week compared to the previous week.

The state’s first priority for vaccinations is health care workers and seniors in long-term care facilities, where the first doses are currently being administered.

Through Sunday, Oregon has received 35,100 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, with another 25,350 doses scheduled to arrive this week, according to the OHA.

Oregon also has received a shipment of 12,100 Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, which received Emergency Use Authorization from the federal government over the weekend.

“Because the Moderna vaccine does not need to be stored at the same extremely cold temperatures as the Pfizer vaccine, it gives us the welcome advantages of more quantities of vaccines to provide to hospitals, with more flexibility in how we distribute them,” Allen said. “We’ll use the Moderna vaccines to reach hospitals and clinics that don’t have easy access to the ultra-cold storage facilities that the Pfizer vaccine requires, including more rural health care settings.”

And while Tuesday’s announcement about the next wave of vaccinations offers some hope to those wanting to see their kids back in a classroom, there’s no timetable on when that next phase would begin.

But when that happens, Brown said educators, school employees, and early learning providers would be considered “critical personnel” for Oregon.

The vaccine won’t be required for anyone, she said, but the OHA and other health departments would spend time in the coming weeks making sure everyone in Oregon had the facts about the vaccine.

A one-day special session of the legislature on Monday ended with the passage of an $800 million COVID relief bill that will include resources for schools.

Brown said districts need additional funding to help implement COVID protocols while counties expand testing and contact tracing efforts to ensure schools can reopen sooner rather than later.

Lawmakers on Monday also passed a bill that gives schools some protection against COVID-related lawsuits. Some feared the threat of such lawsuits would dampen a district’s desire to reopen if there was a fear of virus spread.

Bend State Rep. Cheri Helt told OPB the legislation was needed to give school districts the ability to reopen.

“If New York City can bring back their kids in schools, we can too,” she said.

BLP Schools announces superintendent finalists; public forum set for Wednesday

Bend-La Pine Schools has announced the names of two finalists for its superintendent position.

The two will participate in interviews this week, including a virtual community forum open to the public on Wednesday.

“We are thrilled to have two exceptional candidates meet our community – one of whom will ultimately serve as Bend-La Pine Schools’ next superintendent,” said Carrie Douglass, board chair. “We believe Bend-La Pine Schools is the best school district in the state, which helped us attract a diverse and talented group of candidates from across the country and abroad. After an extensive and inclusive search process, we’re confident these two candidates demonstrate the competencies desired by our community and Board for our next leader.”

The new leader would take over for Interim Superintendent Lora Nordquist, who accepted the temporary post earlier this year as the pandemic paused the initial search.

Nordquist replaced Shay Mikalson, who left the district in July to take a position with the High Desert Education Service District.

In addition to the community forum, which will be streamed live on the district’s Vimeo and Facebook pages Dec. 16, community members can also learn more about the candidates, the process and submit a question for the public forum on the Superintendent Search website.

Feedback forms will be made available at the beginning of each session, available on our Superintendent Search website.

About the finalists:

Since 2018, Dr. Kristina Bellamy has been the Director of K-12 Teaching and Learning Anchorage School District in Alaska, which serves 48,000 students.

Bellamy previously served as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Renton School District in Washington, which serves 15,000 students.

From July 2013 through July 2016, she worked as the founder and then CEO of SOAR Academy charter school in Tacoma, one of Washington State’s first public charters, which served more than 100 students.

She has more than 18 years of public education experience including serving as a teacher, principal and administrator. She holds a Doctorate of Education Leadership and Policy Studies.

“I am widely regarded as a tenacious advocate for students, and a culturally responsive leader who motivates and inspires others to action. As a systems-thinker, I build adult capacity to handle adaptive challenges, while driving equity- focused inquiry and action,” Bellamy stated in her application packet.

Bellamy’s virtual public meeting will happen Wednesday at 6:15 p.m.

Find her resume here.

Since 2018, Dr. Steven Cook currently serves as Superintendent at Coeur d’Alene School District in Idaho, which serves 11,000 students.

Cook previously served as Acting Superintendent at Douglas County School District in Colorado, which serves 68,000 students.

From 2014-2018 he served as Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Schools and Deputy Superintendent at Douglas County School District.

Cook has more than 30 years of public education experience including serving as teacher, principal and superintendent. He holds a Doctorate of Education Leadership and Policy Studies.

“I am a leader that leans heavily on courage, integrity, and relationships. I have a proven ability to bring individuals with diverse ideas together around a common purpose and create win-win solutions,” Cook said in his application packet. “I have a heart for all students, and a heart for supporting educators to reach new levels of excellence in their profession through these experiences and relationships.”

Cook’s virtual public meeting will happen Wednesday at 5 p.m.

Find his resume here.

▶️ Despite fewer cases, county COVID metrics keeping La Pine-area schools closed


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.

▶️ National study shows students struggling in math; local teacher sees good progress


A national study shows despite being away from the classroom, kids have around the same reading test scores as they did in 2019, but they’re struggling in math.

However, a local teacher says she’s seen the opposite.  

“We found a struggle more so with how to reach out and teach ELA, literature, reading skills and writing when you are not able to point right there and say follow along right here, as well as that digital piece listening to them read over a computer,” said Madras Elementary fifth-grade teacher Sarah O’Gorman.

O’Gorman says math has been much easier to teach. 

The study says students are learning, just not as quickly as in years past.

O’Gorman says teachers are getting creative to figure out what works.

“I feel as a fifth-grade teacher we have found more success with our math aspect because we have been able to hone in on essential standards since we know exactly what we have been looking for and the tests have been more precise,” she said.

In math, she says It was hard to know if students did the work themselves or used a calculator.

“We decided to switch to Google slides and there is an icon where you can put the problem down, but they are expected to show their work by taking a picture of either their white board or piece of paper,” O’Gorman said. “Then we can go back through and really see what steps they took and what their thinking was.”

Even though students haven’t been able to do state or district testing, O’Gorman says the kids are learning.

“From the data we have, they are progressing as needed with where our instruction is at,” she said.

Jefferson County schools will have K-5 kids in the classroom for two hours a day, starting Monday. 

O’Gorman is excited to see her students, even for such a short period.

You can read the full report below


▶️ Peer-to-peer youth crisis line helping teens work through issues big and small

Knowing how and where to find help for mental health issues is more important than ever and especially for our youth.

A service that’s trying to combat this very issue is Youth Line, a peer-to-peer crisis line that’s helping kids with issues big or small all across Central Oregon.

Central Oregon Daily’s Eric Lindstrom has more.


▶️ Parents express concern over distance learning drop in grades


Christie Otley is a parent of three boys.

One in seventh grade, one in third grade and a first grader with an Individualized Education Plan.

Otley said all of them are falling behind learning from home.

“They’ve had more hardships with learning and understanding the technologies, and the materials provided to them,” Otley said. “It’s just all around been very difficult and unfortunate.”

Susanna Abrahamson has two sons at Mountain View High School — Reed, a freshman, and Andrew, a junior also on IEPs.

“It is staggering,” Abrahamson said. “The bad habits that have been created that I’m so worried will continue with them.”

Both parents say their kids have lost motivation.

While none of them are currently failing a class, they are struggling.

“If we were to do a side by side comparison of all three of my kids from last year versus this year,” Otley said. “In my eyes, they’re all falling dramatically.”

“In the previous six weeks,” Abrahamson said. “My older son did have a D in his class.”

Lora Nordquist, Bend-La Pine Schools’ interim superintendent says this time away from in-person instruction could, and likely will, catch up with students.

“I think that we will see lagging learning in our students when we are able to return in-person,” Nordquist said. “That’s not just a few students, that’s many students.”

Nordquist says both school employees and teachers are reaching out to students who they notice aren’t doing so well, primarily those in middle and high school.

“We are looking to intervene more at all levels,” Nordquist said.

Both Otley and Abrahamson say they worry for their sons if distance learning goes on any longer.

“He’s just doing enough to get by,” Abrahamson said. “That’s never been the kind of student that he’s been.”

“They want to be in school,” Otley said. “They want to see their friends, they want to be able to talk to their teachers without a screen in their way or without technology in their way.”

Nordquist says exact numbers of how many Bend-La Pine students are failing will not be available until the end of the semester.

Draft of revised COVID metrics would allow Deschutes Co. schools to reopen K-5


All of Deschutes County’s elementary school students could be allowed to return to the classroom under new state COVID metrics expected to be released in the coming days.

That was the message Tuesday night from Bend-La Pine Schools Interim Superintendent Lora Nordquist during a board workshop.

Nordquist said Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill revealed a draft of the new metrics during a call on Monday.

There are conflicting reports on when the announcement on the new metrics will be made, but it could come as early as Thursday.

And the draft could change.

But the new metrics Nordquist saw were “much less restrictive in terms of the number of case counts” and gave counties a range to consider instead of one number.

So instead of needing three straight weeks with 30 or fewer cases per 100,000 residents to reopen schools for grades K-3, the new metric would look at a range of the two-week average of cases per 100,000 residents.

“We haven’t abandoned the idea of getting our 4-5s in full time, but as long as those social distancing barriers exist that’s going be a challenge.”
– BLP Interim Superintendent Lora Nordquist

Deschutes County does not meet the current metric, meaning the earliest K-3 students can return to the classroom is Nov. 30th.

“We meet the new metrics under the new guidelines to go ahead and start,” Nordquist said, adding that the new guidelines also allow for the return of 4th and 5th graders. (And 6th graders where they attend alongside the younger grades.)

But still up in the air is whether the new metrics will be a requirement or a recommendation and whether the state will allow districts to restart right away or wait until a specific date.

“We are absolutely committed to getting our students back into school as soon as the metrics allow,” she said.

Nordquist said the district will still stagger the restart by first bringing back kids in grades K-3 in a hybrid/alternative days model for a week or two.

Those students would then return to full-time, in-person instruction while kids in grades 4-5 return on alternating days in a hybrid in-person/distance learning model.

She said there simply isn’t enough space or staffing in the schools to bring back all the students full time and still abide by social distancing rules.

“We haven’t abandoned the idea of getting our 4-5s in full time, but as long as those social distancing barriers exist that’s going be a challenge,” she said.

And the COVID cases remain too high still to think about returning middle and high schoolers.

Nordquist also said if community spread of COVID continued and it was enough to keep kids out of schools into the new year, Gov. Kate Brown would implement tighter restrictions on businesses and close down higher-risk activities.

Gill acknowledged the health risks in bringing students back but said there were some additional negative health and safety issues to consider.

He told the group there were 1,500 fewer child abuse cases reported across the state in September 2020 than in September last year.

Many child abuse case reports start in schools with teachers or other trusted adults noticing a child who may be in danger.

Additionally, Gill told educators that after looking at areas where schools reopened across the world and U.S., the data showed schools weren’t a significant contributor to the community spread of COVID.


Deschutes Co. misses mark with COVID metrics; schools back to ‘Week Zero’

Deschutes County COVID cases shot up last week meaning Bend-La Pine and Redmond schools are once again at “Week Zero” in their efforts to get kids back into class.

The OHA recorded 75 cases in Deschutes County, which translates to 38.9 cases per 100,000 residents.

Counties need to have 30 or fewer cases per 100,000 people for three straight weeks before bringing kids back in grades K-3.

Bend-La Pine notified parents in a Facebook post Tuesday the earliest students could return to class now is Nov. 30th.

Not only did cases jump, but the test positivity rate for Deschutes County went up as well.

Deschutes County met the metric two weeks ago (57 cases or 29.5/100,000) providing some hope that a return would happen sooner than later.

But the latest data is another blow to many families and teachers who are eagerly awaiting a chance to get back to in-person learning.

Meanwhile in Salem, Gov. Kate Brown is working with education and health officials to possibly rewrite the metrics and reopen schools sooner.

Until then, local districts are at the mercy of their communities and how well they limit the spread of COVID.

Deschutes County has reported 1,132 cases and 13 COVID-related deaths since the onset of the pandemic.


▶️ Bend’s Newest School Officially Ready for Students

North Star Elementary School officially opened its doors Thursday night, giving students, parents and the community a peek inside Bend’s newest school.

Classes don’t start until next week, but the open house served as a celebration marking the end of summer and a new beginning for the 260 students who will call it home.

Central Oregon Daily’s Dalton Roth was there for the ribbon cutting and talked to parents about the new year ahead.