News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Sisters students in grades 4-6 may return to school soon

Sisters students in grades 4-6 may be returning to in-person learning as early as November 10, joining grades K-3 which have been in school for five weeks.

That possibility arises in the wake of Governor Kate Brown’s October 30 press conference regarding adjustments to health metrics in Oregon.

Sisters students would still be considered to be following a “hybrid” model, since students will attend Monday-Thursday and take part in online learning on Fridays.

A basic snapshot of the new metrics says that counties that have 50-100 cases per 100,000 residents over 14 consecutive days can employ the hybrid model of onsite and distance learning. If the rate lowers to fewer than 50 cases, schools are eligible for full-time onsite learning.

Sisters Elementary School Principal Joan Warburg is overjoyed at the prospect of having the fourth-graders return.

“We are thrilled to have our fourth-graders return to the building!” she said. “It has been hard for our fourth-graders, especially those with younger siblings, to not be able to join the rest of the school the last few weeks for in-person learning.

“I am very proud of the amazing effort of our fourth-grade teachers to teach our students in the Comprehensive Distance Learning model, mixing in fun with the core subjects,” she said.

But nothing compares to being taught in person and Warburg caught a glimpse of that last week.

“Last week we had most of our fourth-graders participate in limited in-person instruction by coming in to conduct a science experiment with solar ovens,” she explained. “One parent shared that just coming into school for that hour transformed her daughter’s day. She was joyful and excited all day because she was able to come to school for a short while. I know that our fourth-graders will thrive once they are able to return to in-person learning.”

The success over the last few weeks with preschool through third grade being instructed in person gives Warburg confidence that students returning will be well cared for and as safe as possible.

“We are very careful to adhere to all COVID protocols and are pleased that we have had five strong weeks of in-person learning and are hopeful that we will continue to be healthy as a school community,” she said. “Having our fourth-graders back in the building will make us complete once again.”

Sisters Middle School Principal Alison Haney also looks forward to having the fifth- and sixth-graders return to the middle school.

“Personally, I’m very excited that there’s a greater possibility of us returning to school with the changing of the metrics,” she said. “The ramifications of students being out of school for so long is extremely concerning to me as we fulfill a myriad of roles that support holistic development for students.”

According to Haney, the district administrators were set to meet Monday, November 2, “to chart out different paths for returning students to school if and when we meet the metrics. We will need to wait for Monday’s metrics to come out before we can do any official planning. Concurrently we will also involve our SMS families and staff in a discussion on next steps.”

Haney also acknowledged the concerns and challenges that lie ahead as reopening takes place.

She said, “For some there is a natural apprehension for returning to school, given further details from the CDC on what an exposure means and higher level of positive cases in our county, but we hope to see SMS students back in our school sooner than later.

“That being said,” she continued,” the safety and well-being of our students, staff, and community are always at the forefront of decision making, and as such it will be a multifaceted, multi-stakeholder conversation before we make final decisions.”

(The status of the return to school will be updated at when further information becomes available.)

Superintendent Curt Scholl sees Sisters as being a bit ahead of the game in terms of serving students compared to many Oregon districts.

He said, “Currently, statewide, we are serving less than 10 percent of our students in any type of in-person instruction. In Sisters School District, with the K-3 exception and those students that are being served in some form of limited-in-person instruction, we are serving between 30 and 40 percent of our students weekly.”

According to Warburg and Haney, the anticipated return date could be as early as Tuesday, November 10. Confirmation, along with all other information, will be provided to the school community this week.

The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) recommends a measured approach to restarting students to in-person instruction, but it is possible for Sisters students in grades 7-12 to also be returning to school in the near future as weekly health data comes in and plans are finalized.

Caution is also merited based on a significant upswing in cases throughout Oregon, including Deschutes County, in recent weeks.

Superintendent Scholl said, “As we digest these new metrics, we will communicate how these changes will impact Sisters School District, and our ability to serve our students and families.”

The complete updated version of the “Safe School, Ready Learners” document can be found on the ODE website.


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