ENTERPRISE — Although the start of the 2020-21 school year is almost two months away, all three school districts in the county have started making plans.
Schedules may change, there will be options to attend classes online, but for now, the preliminary, hoped-for plan is to have the students back in brick-and-mortar classrooms come late August.
Oregon Department of Education has set basic rules that schools must follow, according to Enterprise School District Superintended Erika Pinkerton. They include social distancing provisions, such as allowing a minimum of 35 square feet per person in classrooms, maintaining a minimum of 6 feet between each person and modifying schedules to limit the number of students in the building and teaching in groups that are stable throughout the day. Schools also will keep daily logs of student movements to enable contact tracing, rigorously clean door handles and other surfaces and frequent, proper hand-washing. Face coverings or face shields are required for some staff, including those preparing and serving meals, bus drivers and teachers who are in close contact with students. Masks are recommended for students in grades 6 through 12 and all teachers and other staff.
Schools also must develop an operational blueprint that will be posted on the district’s website by Aug. 15.
Joseph Charter School’s high school principal, Sherri Kilgore, said that the school’s operational blueprint is currently in a first-draft format.
“Our hope is to be face to face when we open in the fall, but there a lot of variables right now,” Joseph Superintendent Lance Homan said. “We also want to accommodate those families and students who want to do all their classes online.”
Some additional measures under consideration by Joseph Charter School’s advisory committee include asking parents to transport their students to and from school if possible, suggesting that students bring their own lunches if possible and providing a “Back to School Night” for all students and their families. Staff would demonstrate how to wash hands, the protocols for walking through hallways, which door they will use to enter the school in the morning and other things.
“We have such an amazing professional community, parents, staff and kids, we will indeed get through this together and the 2020-21 school year will happen,” Kilgore said. “With all the planning and precautions, schools will be one of the safest places for kids to be.”
Like Joseph, Enterprise also is planning to be “brick and mortar, face to face in the fall,” Pinkerton said.
“We are working hard on how to meet COVID-19 guidelines but still keep school ‘normal’ for the kids,” she said.
Pinkerton said the district has been working with the hospital and other medical advisers to develop the safest blueprint for opening possible.
Enterprise plans changes that include a combined fourth- and fifth-grade classroom and a combined fifth- and sixth-grade classroom, to meet the ODE’s social distancing requirements
“We’ll continue to have lunches in the cafeteria, but we’ll have X’s where students should sit to keep them 6 feet apart,” Pinkerton said. “We’ll have to keep students together through the day in teams.”
All schools, including Enterprise, will have to keep a log every day of where students travel to in the school or on the campus. The record of where on the school grounds students are during the day will make contact tracing easier, should an outbreak occur, she said.
Enterprise is planning on staggered start times. Students will report to different doors by grade level, where staff will visually do their best to check they don’t have COVID-19.
“I’m not sure how that’s going to work,” Pinkerton said. “We haven’t made a decision yet on open or closed campus, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we go ‘closed’ just to keep it simple.”
Recess will be different.
“We’ll have more organized games that we’ll teach and keep kids more separated,” Pinkerton said. ”The precautions even extend to protocols for handing back corrected papers. ... There’s going to be a lot of change.”
The Wallowa School District will be doing most of the same things as Joseph and Enterprise to meet the ODE requirements, and also is planning and hoping for face-to-face classroom learning, Wallowa School District Superintendent Tammy Jones said.
“The district will provide hybrid classes for students with health issues,” she said. Should there be a local outbreak of COVID-19, the Wallowa School District will be prepared to provide a four-week term of distance learning.
Jones wants to finish up a draft of the blueprint so that the community and faculty can provide input to the plan.
“There are still questions to be answered,” she said. “For example, what will the final plan on wearing masks be, given the governor’s recent order.”
Jones, like her colleagues, is sure the schools will adapt and provide the education kids need.
“We have comprehensive, better prepared guidance from state,” she said. “And most of all we have an amazing staff and the support of community and families to ensure kids’ learning.”