Central Linn Community and Families:
I want to start by thanking all of those who wrote letters and emails to express your desire to have children in school in-person as much as possible, as soon as possible. I want you to hear that your feelings are shared by the School Board, the Administration, and the Staff at Central Linn School District. I also want to express my appreciation for the decency and respectful tone of the vast majority of your expressions. In a time where civil discourse seems to grow less civil every day, it is refreshing that we can have a conversation based on mutual respect.
We all know that nothing is better for a learner’s academic, social, mental, and physical health than to have them in school, in person, engaging with teachers, peers, and all of the activities that make school so much more than just a place to learn how to read. In some ways, this health crisis has helped us all to understand the value of a strong local school in ways that we may not have pre-COVID.
On December 23rd, Governor Kate Brown made the announcement that the health metrics for opening schools would move from being ‘mandatory’ to ‘advisory’ on January 1st. Despite the horrible timing of this announcement, because staff were on break and planning for the second trimester that started January 4th had already been completed, the news may provide us with additional flexibility. I say it may provide us with additional flexibility, because, like most politicians and most media headlines, many important details were either left out or glossed over. Here are some of the issues that have not been communicated to the public that we still must address:
- Recent COVID liability protection granted to school districts by the Oregon Legislature are void if all “guidance” is not followed; this includes the metrics.
- Opening schools for in-person against the metrics could lend weight to any OHSA complaint charging an ‘unsafe working environment’.
- The metrics are the only regulation that becomes advisory, all health related regulations for in-person instruction remain mandatory and they include: masks, limited number of students in each classroom or on a bus, limiting the number of individuals a learner has contact with in a week (cohorts), sports restrictions, quarantine requirements and maintaining a tight tracking system for contact tracing.
- New guidance from the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) is due out January 19th, and we have been advised to not to act prior to that new guidance by ODE.
Local health concerns also must be considered:
- County and local zip code disease numbers spiked after Thanksgiving; letting the impact of Christmas and New Year’s play out until mid-January would be prudent.
- To provide the best safety measures for my staff, I have a planning meeting Thursday night with the Linn County Health Department, where I hope to gain a better understanding of when the vaccine will be available to my staff.
We also need to address Central Linn specific issues:
- We spent most of last summer building tight cohorts for High School (and 4-8 to a lesser extent) designed for in-person instruction, only to have the state yank the rug out from under us at the last moment and forcing us into Comprehensive Distance Learning (CDL) with Limited In-Person Instruction (LIPI) grades 4 thru 12. This forced teachers into trying to teach a ridiculous number of online classes, 10-15 in some cases. So, based on the rules and conditions in early December, we built the system to be online for the 2nd trimester. This makes switching again back to in-person, midstream exceedingly difficult; but returning some sort of LIPI is doable.
- We have four (4) fewer teachers today than we did at this time last year. Two (2) at each building. This, along with the limits on the number of kids we can put in a classroom, is a limiting factor to the number of kids we can have on campus at one time. We are actively looking for more teachers.
- We are down to six (6) bus drivers, and health guidelines will not allow more than 13 kids on a bus at a time, a few more if we are transporting siblings, but this is Parents committing to transportation where possible could help us a lot.
- Under the new liability protections passed in House Bill 4402, an agreement will need to be developed for parent/guardian signature that will ensure that sick children are not sent to school, and household quarantine measures will be followed when recommended. This will protect the health of all building occupants and ensure that the maximum number of children that can be on campus, will stay on campus.
- The burden on staff to maintain both in-person and online educational options is substantial.
All of this being said, our commitment to safely increase in-person instruction is unwavering. We want kids in our buildings! We obviously have a lot of work to do, and want to collectively partner with you in safely getting our kids back in person as much as possible. I know everyone wants answers, I apologize for not having all of them for you at this time. I can say that if disease numbers continue to moderate, we will be working hard to overcome the issues stated above. I am confident that LIPI will start by late January for 7-12th grade and we can start getting elementary learners back into buildings in February; if possible earlier than that.