As much of Oregon is seeing, and specifically Lane County, we are experiencing a large spike in cases of COVID-19 among staff and students today. Fortunately, all of our staff have been vaccinated, and symptoms for everyone to this point have been relatively mild, and we expect them back in school soon. Since the beginning of the year, our primary concern has been to maintain in-person instruction. We have been able to do that through the creativity, teamwork and dedication of our staff, as well as by following all of the layered mitigation safety protocols. To date, we have not had to alter our calendar due to a lack of staff, or as a result a COVID outbreak. While daily in-person instruction throughout the year is our goal, all school districts in Lane County are preparing for the possibility of needing to close for short periods of time.
On Monday, ODE released a School health Advisory for Continuity of Instruction. One of the things it addresses is that the expected spike in cases, thus resulting in requirements to isolate (for those ill) or quarantine (for those that are close contacts) and the impacts on workforce stability in a wide range of sectors, including schools. We expect further updates from ODE on Friday regarding new requirements and guidance in the areas of quarantine, isolation, test to return, up-to-date vaccination status, safety protocols, athletics, testing programs and more.
The next month is critical. By mid to late January the modeling currently shows that we could be through this surge, and cases will drop off dramatically. We need the help of families and community members in order to maintain in-person instruction:
- Keep your child home if they have symptoms.
- Vaccination remains the best protection against serious illness and reduces spread of the disease.
- Limit gatherings.
- Follow safety protocols including masking, hand-washing, distancing, etc…
We will try to keep the community apprised of any changes. Below we will briefly address multiple topics I would like our students and families to prepare for.
Remote Learning: If the district needs to shift to remote learning, we are prepared to do so. We believe we can get Chromebooks issued in 24 hours to our K-8 students (H.S. students already have them), and only need to be “closed” for one day. If the district needs to close for multiple days (more than 3)…it is most likely we will look at engaging in remote learning. If the district needs to close for less than 3 days, it is most likely that we will NOT be engaging in remote learning, we will simply have no school days. In this case, there is a possibility the school year could be extended. The need to do this, if it arrives, will be last minute. We would encourage families to have a plan in place. It will be a last resort.
Athletics: For now, there are no long term changes to athletics, however due to an outbreak today among both basketball teams, both of those programs are needing to “pause” for one week. I do not want to pause athletics permanently, as we are committed to providing as normal an athletic experience for our student athletes as possible. Practicing the safety protocols listed above will be critical going forward, and for basketball teams when they return. We want to make clear to our students and parents, that while we value participation in athletics, there is a much higher risk of catching and spreading COVID for our student athletes. The primary difference here is that attending school is compulsory, while participating in athletics is voluntary. This allows the district (through state guidance) — to have different requirements for each.
Will students be required to be vaccinated and/or boosted?: I have looked into this extensively in the last few weeks, and while I certainly cannot say I am 100% sure of anything, I am comfortable making the two statements below:
- I do not expect any changes to the vaccination requirements in this school year.
- If this were ever to occur, just like all other required vaccinations for students, I would expect parents would have a clear and relatively simple path to “opt-out.”
Updates to Quarantine & Isolation: The CDC made new recommendations early this week. OHA officials are currently working with the CDC regarding what this means for schools. As soon as we get an update, and have time to interpret it, we will share this information.
Thank you to all the families, students and staff that continue to be flexible, follow protocols, and work hard daily to ensure we can continue to maintain in-person instruction. That remains the goal, every day.
Gary E. Carpenter, Jr.