Schools in the North Wasco County District 21 begin their reopening process with kindergarten and sixth grade student orientation on Monday, March 15, with first, second, seventh and eighth graders returning Thursday, March 18, and Friday, March 19.

At The Dalles High School, freshmen orientation starts on March 18, and all remaining grades return Monday, March 29.

For families who opt to keep their student in online schooling for the remainder of the school year, classes for the North Wasco Virtual Academy begin March 15.

Following a hybrid model, returning students will receive both in school and online instruction; D21 students will meet in the classroom Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, with Wednesdays consisting entirely of distance learning. Due to space and safety requirements, in-person learning will happen at half-capacity, and students will be assigned to a “cohort,” or a consistent group of students, in order to limit the potential for exposure and allow for easier contact tracing. Elementary and middle school students will either be in Cohort A, meeting from 8–10:30 a.m., or Cohort B, meeting from 12:30-3 p.m. on in-person days. High school students will meet for in-person learning twice a week from 8 a.m. to 12:23 p.m., with Cohorts A and B alternating days of the week. While not on-site, students will receive additional instruction through Google Classroom.

Among the various challenges the schools have been facing while trying to reopen, the physical issues with making decades-old school buildings safe for reopening has been an ongoing one. Despite this, Theresa Peters, North Wasco Country School District interim superintendent, wants to assure families that “from ensuring we have appropriate occupancy limits posted for each of our rooms to addressing ventilation and filtration concerns, to establishing isolation rooms and procedures in response to students or staff who become symptomatic at school. Our staff have worked together to problem solve in preparation for students returning to school.”

As per the state requirement for reopening for hybrid learning, District 21 has created Operational Blueprints for each school building, outlining measures being taken to ensure the health and safety of students and staff while in school. According to Peters, “Each building has a blueprint planning team consisting of the school administrator, support staff and teachers that have collaborated throughout this school year to address the now more than 160 safety requirements outlined in the Ready Schools Safe Learners document from the Oregon Department of Education and the Oregon Health Authority."

These plans are posted and available for public view on the North Wasco County D21 Website. Due to the blueprints being subject to revision based off ODE and local health department feedback and updates, parents/guardians are encouraged review and keep updated on any changes made.

Further precautions to take place include regular screenings for COVID-19 symptoms for students and staff before entering buildings, as well as wearing masks and maintaining social distance. “It will be vital that any student or staff member with symptoms stay home and get well before returning to school,” said Peters. “Information about when to keep your child home will be sent home from schools on a regular basis.”

Despite not being able to meet for in-person learning before this month, high sports training and several extracurricular clubs have been meeting since fall, with middle school sports meeting since February. According to Peters, the high school ski teams competed and made it to state this year, and high and middle school level fall sports have begun according to OSAA schedule. Peters further states, “Football, cross country, soccer and volleyball are happening now and we are planning on competing with other teams in our league. We are working to livestream our varsity competitions. Please check the riverhawathletics.com website for details. Our spring sports, baseball, softball, golf, tennis and track and field are scheduled to begin practicing April 5.”

In a news release given on March 11, Peters urges the community to be aware of, starting March 15, students walking to and from school, as well as increased traffic and frequent stops made by school buses. Community members are asked for caution while driving, as well as patience and understanding with the length of stops, as school bus staff are required to conduct screening for symptoms of students getting on, as per mandated safety protocols.