THE DALLES — On Aug. 19, the entire District 21 School Board and leadership team came together for an in-person work session at The Dalles Middle School, where they went into detail on a comprehensive draft plan for reopening D21 Schools for the 2021-22 School Year.
After going over state and Oregon Department of Education (ODE) requirements for in-person learning, virtual learning options for students unable to attend in-person learning, and mitigation measures the district is implementing to reduce the spread of COVID-19, school principals and other district leaders presented their own draft plans on what a student would experience while participating in in-person learning.
Like other Oregon school districts, D21 is required to submit a “Safe Return to in-Person Instruction and Continuity of Services plan” by Aug. 27 to ODE. According to Superintendent Carolyn Bernal, this draft plan has been “developed utilizing the Ready School, Safe Learners Framework (RSSL), and input from our stakeholders.”
“It is a draft,” Bernal said. “We are still open to hearing feedback from our community and our stakeholders as we continue to develop these plans.”
Some mitigation measures presented in draft plan include, as required by the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), well-fitted face coverings worn by all students, staff and visitors over the age of 2 — barring exceptions such as active eating or drinking, playing a wind or horn instrument, or when someone is the sole occupant of a room with the door closed. The North Wasco County School District will also be supporting a consistent 3-feet of physical distancing as recommended by the CDC, as well as consistent hand washing/sanitizing. Cohorting — where students are placed in consistent groups while in school — will also be implemented at the elementary and middle school levels as much as possible.
Due to the highly transmissible nature of the COVID-19 delta variant, volunteers and/or visitors will not be permitted inside schools during the school day at the beginning of the school year. This rule will be reviewed weekly by the district in collaboration with the Local Public Health Authority (LPHA). When and if public health conditions improve, this rule may be reconsidered/adjusted.
In the event of a COVID-19 exposure, the district is required to cooperate with LPHA investigations and requirements. If a student has been potentially exposed to someone with COVID-19 but is properly following mitigation measures such as masking and distancing, and/or if eligible students desire to voluntarily disclose if they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, they may not be required to quarantine.
While ODE and OHA priority is to get students in schools for full-time, in-person learning, NWCSD is currently preparing for a virtual learning option for students who are “immunocompromised and/or considered medically fragile,” or if “they live with a family member directly affected by the impacts of COVID-19.” While they couldn’t share specific details on virtual learning at this time, it was shared that the district will have more information “very soon.”
The draft presentation continued with school principals, leaders, and directors, coming before the board and the audience to share drafts of what a typical day of a student would look like while attending full time, in-person learning. Lisa Kaseberg, director of transportation, shared the mitigation measures that will be taken on school buses, including students wearing face coverings and standing 3-feet apart while waiting in line and seated on the bus. Dottie Ray, nutrition services director for District 21, presented on nutrition standards and supply, stating that nutrition services will operate under the Seamless Summer Option and that all meals will continue to be served at no charge to students.
Plans for proper cleaning and sanitation were also presented. District custodial staff will receive refresher training, reviewing the latest disinfecting protocols for COVID, as well as setting proper cleaning standards. Day time staff will be monitoring and disinfecting high use/touch points such has hallways, lobbies and bathrooms. Nighttime staff will be disinfecting all offices, classrooms, hallways, stairwells, gyms, etc., as well as all flat surfaces such as tabletops.
Aside from mitigation measures being taken, Bernal shared that a major focus of the resiliency framework and draft plan is equity and mental health.
“We know and understand that this new school year is likely to elicit a range of emotions,” said Bernal. “The school year will begin with reflection and connection to support health and well-being of both students and staff.”
She said that, throughout the year, “time and space will be created to reflect, connect, and make meaning of last year.”
Once all different parts off the draft plan were presented, Board Chair Jose Aparicio opened the floor to public comment, beginning so by reading six written comments submitted to the school board prior to the meeting. A total of 11 commenters stood before the board, with one group of three. Comments were made on topics ranging from the support of district mitigation measures to concern of physical and mental health consequences of measures such as mandated masking of students and the recent call for OHA to mandate COVID vaccinations for all Oregon teachers and staff made by Gov. Kate Brown. Others voiced questions on topics such the enforcement of mitigation measures and what if any punishment would look like should a student not comply. The school board directed anyone with specific questions to submit them via email to Bernal.
The work session wrapped up with an agenda action item proposing the addition of replacing the heating system in Kurtz Gym to the Kurtz Gym Seismic Project and to authorize increasing the existing GMP contract with Griffin Constriction LLC. The proposal would take $300,000 from the enterprise funds and put it towards the Seismic Project, which would increase from overall total of $2,120,080 paid for with the seismic grant to $2,420,080. A motion of approval was made by Director John Nelson, and the motion was unanimously passed by the board.
To view the District 21 back to school draft plan, or the Aug. 19 Work Session in its entirety, visit the North Wasco County School District 21 Facebook page and/or District 21 media channel on YouTube and click the link. The District 21 school board will meet for a regular meeting Thursday, Aug. 26.