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School leaders work toward February return

CRESWELL – Despite the county’s ongoing status in the “extreme risk” category for the coronavirus, the Creswell superintendent said the district is still moving forward with in-person schooling. 

“We have had some pretty risky situations going on here in Creswell,” Mike Johnson, Creswell schools superintendent said at last week’s board meeting. 

“My commitment is to provide a safe environment for students and staff … I want kids in school. I love kids. We all do. That’s why we do this,” he said. “I feel for our teachers. Teachers are people, too. They have families that have underlying conditions and they fear for their families just as much as anyone else out there. But … their passion is to be with kids, and because of that passion, we’re moving to on-site instruction.”

Colt Gill, director for the Oregon Department of Education, stated there is hope schools are able to return to in-person learning by Feb. 15, but the ODE is still cautioning the district to move slowly. 

“Our kids need that engagement,” Johnson said. “This is our first opportunity to do it in the safest time path possible that I’ve seen in months … In my assessment, we have a window to start moving some stuff in on campus.”

Principals are making calls and efforts are ongoing to collect parent input and gauge for in-person learning. 

CHS Principal Jenny Collins said there are 40 families on their starting call list, and 29 families said “yes” to returning to in-person learning.  

CMS Principal Julie Johansen was not at the meeting, but Johnson said she’s been having trouble getting students to return to campus, but she is “backfilling those spots” by extending her call list.

CES Principal Amy Halley said her school has contacted the parents of 37 students, and they have 10 “yes” and 17 “no” decisions. There are 10 more families to contact for answers.

“There still are a lot of parents who are not ready for their kids to be in the mass public with their peers,” Halley said.

“And as you get the ‘no’s,’ I’m assuming you’ve got a deeper list you can just keep working through?,” board member Lacey Risdal asked. 

“Absolutely,” Halley said, noting they have been going down the needs list for the students requiring internet connectivity. 

Two legislature bills were passed on Jan. 11, one that addresses COVID-19 liability for schools and an additional $50 million in state aid for public school districts to support implementation of in-person instruction.

Schools still must follow the Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance to receive the COVID-19 liability protection passed by the legislature.

Gov. Brown moved teachers into the 1a group, making them top priority for vaccination. Vaccinations for teachers can start Jan. 25, and Johnson said he has a plan to build capacity within the staff to give shots.  

Public health “provides the vaccine and (the district) has to provide the staff,” he said. “They provide the training for administering the vaccine and the observations of the reactions after the vaccine.” 

Risdal asked whether emergency state funding would help pay for staff time to operate the clinic. 

“We may get reimbursement down the road. … I’m gonna work on a vaccine administration schedule, to bring staff in and get them vaccinated,” Johnson said. 

Johnson said he doesn’t know how much money the State would provide to district. The amount will be based on an algorithm, not based on actual costs.

The district would need reimbursement in the future for more teachers, Johnson said. With more students returning to school, there would need to be more cohorts to keep students at minimal exposure to each other, with one teacher per cohort, he said. 

Risdal asked about a potential shortage in additional teachers.  

“Some of the districts that are attempting this are only able to accommodate 50% of their student enrollment. Until they get the staff in, they can’t bring the students in,” Johnson said.

For students who take the bus, each cohort will have its own designated bus for transportation. Johnson proposed four cohorts a day and cohort sizes up to 25 students. Other protocols include case counts low enough that the community is not regularly introducing new cases into the school.

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