Protesters Hood River Oct. 13

Protesters stand in front of the Coe Administration Building on Eugene Street before a Hood River County School District Board meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 13.          

HOOD RIVER — Protesters took to both sides of Eugene Street on Oct. 13 before the Hood River County School District Board Meeting at the Coe Administration Building.

New protocols were in place, which limited the number of visitors allowed inside. Two administrators met those wishing to attend the meeting at the front door with two screening questions: One, were they experiencing any COVID symptoms, and two, were they carrying concealed weapons.

The second question came after administrators heard that some people were planning to attend the evening meeting armed.

Deputy George Economou, the district’s school resource deputy, was also outside monitoring the situation.

Though the meeting started at 6:30 p.m., seats were filled inside by 6 p.m. Protesters came en masse to the front of the building around 6 p.m. and demanded entry, but were not allowed inside as the meeting room was already at capacity. Hood River County Sheriff’s Department and Hood River Police sent additional law enforcement to provide backup as the crowd became agitated. Most refused to leave the district grounds despite requests to move their protest back to the sidewalk; one protester was also heard trying to sway those gathered to go back to the sidewalk, but that request went mostly unheeded.

Inside, Board Chair Chrissy Reitz began the meeting promptly at 6:30 p.m. and thanked those gathered for their patience with the new protocols.

“Before we get started, I wanted to say thank you to everyone for their patience with how we are trying to run public comment and attendance,” Reitz said. “We really are trying to be mindful of COVID protocols and really match the rest of our district, so that’s why we have you all spread out 3-feet apart. There’s a lot of people joining us virtually, but I am glad you all are here and the board looks forward to hearing your public comment.”

Public comment procedure had also undergone a change, beginning with the Oct. 13 meeting. There is now an online Google form that interested parties can fill out; Google sends an automatic reply that is timestamped, which determines the order comments are taken at the meeting. As usual, those unable to speak at the meeting can email comments to the board, which are then reviewed by the board chair and superintendent.

Eleven speakers, two attending virtually, gave comments — the majority thanking the district administration and board for following state mask and vaccine mandates.

While most of the commenters gave positive statements regarding district COVID policies, two unvaccinated teachers gave testimony regarding the K-12 vaccine mandate and how unpaid leave was detrimental to them and their students. (See related story.)

New data dashboard replaces letters

Superintendent Rich Polkinghorn said during his board communication that the district will no longer be sending notices when a positive case is detected at a site. Instead, the district has launched a data dashboard of COVID activity by school. Parents will still be notified if their student has been identified as a close contact and the same procedures will be followed to determine whether that close contact needs to quarantine.

“We’ve been able to refine our systems and processes a little bit related to COVID management,” he said, referring to partnerships with the county health department, principals, data specialists, the district’s communications director and its COVID management contractor. “We’re at a point where we’re gathering data in such a way that we can actually provide school by school breakdown of active COVID cases as well as a total number of people within a school community that are being asked to quarantine.”

ESSER III Funds

Polkinghorn also provided an update on Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds as provided by the American Rescue Plan; Oregon Department of Education (ODE) has claimed $1.009 billion for Oregon school districts, with HRCSD receiving $4.9 million.

He said 20% or more of the funds must be used for unfinished learning , with the balance used to develop strategies and implement public health protocols, including policies in line with guidance from Center for Disease Control (CDC) on reopening and operating schools.

The district is using the funds to improve access to social and mental health services; improve HVAC infrastructure at Mid Valley and Parkdale elementary schools to assist in air flow, control and filtration; improve or enhance access to learning opportunities for students and staff (including no registration or user fees for athletics or tests); and improve access to programs, curriculum and instruction that is designed to enhance student learning opportunities (such as renewing the AVID program and subscription services for technology).

The due date to submit the plan to ODE is Oct. 20, and Polkinghorn said once ODE approves the plan, the district will be reimbursed for its expenses.

Hispanic Heritage Month

The board unanimously passed a resolution to declare and recognize October as Hispanic Heritage Month.

Dalbey presented to the board during “Recognition and Good News” a list of district employees who report their ethnicity and race as Hispanic by building.

“We are making progress towards our goal in making sure our staff represents the demographics of our community as well as the demographics of our students in our schools,” she said.

“As a Hispanic member of this board, of this community, I really want to say thank you to the School District Superintendent Polkinghorn for the recognition and having this resolution — it matters,” said Vice Chair Julia Garcia-Ramirez during board member comment. “It means a lot to me and I know it means a lot to our community, so thank you for that.”

The full resolution can be found HERE.