News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Elementary school will continue in-person

Sisters Elementary School will be allowed to remain open for “hybrid” learning under the state’s “Safe Harbor” clause, which was extended following an announcement late December 16 from the Oregon Department of Education and the Oregon Health Authority.

The “Safe Harbor” status had been set to expire January 4, 2021. ODE expects to publish updated information in the “Safe Schools, Ready Learners” program, including regarding “Safe Harbor” in the next two weeks.

However, superintendent Curt Scholl emphasized that students at Sisters Elementary will take a week of Comprehensive Distance Learning (CDL) the week of January 4, with a plan to return to the “in-person hybrid” model beginning January 11 — provided that nothing else significantly changes in the interim regarding coronavirus infection rates.

Under the in-person hybrid model, students have been attending class on site at Sisters Elementary School Monday-Thursday and take part in distance learning on Fridays.

Sisters Elementary School remains the only public school in Deschutes County conducting in-person learning under the hybrid model.

The extension of the “Safe Harbor” clause also included the opportunity for Sisters middle and high schools to be able to continue Limited In Person Instruction (LIPI) beginning January 11, which allows a measured number of students to be on site under particular guidelines during the school day.

Scholl is very pleased Sisters Elementary will have the opportunity to continue in-person instruction and acknowledged that elementary students returning to CDL for the first week of January is challenging, but has good reasoning behind it.

In his letter to parents, Scholl said, “I understand that comprehensive distance learning is no one’s first choice in an educational model. The Oregon Health Authority and Deschutes County Public Health have predicted and seen increased case counts after every holiday throughout the pandemic. Our return to CDL for the week is to help protect our school community and to allow us to get back to and stay in our hybrid model.”

He added, “We are very excited about this extension and our ability to continue to serve our youngest learners in-person on January 11.”

Scholl also explained in the letter why the district is continuing to proceed with caution.

“While students appear to be less affected by COVID,” he wrote, “our schools are an ecosystem consisting of a wide range of hard-working people from our community. Although we know that schools are not ‘spreaders,’ the continued high case count creates concern. The safety of the entire ecosystem must be considered in any plans moving forward.”

Scholl pointed out that in neighboring Crook County, schools returned to CDL before the holiday break, not because students were becoming infected, but because spread in the Prineville community required staff to be quarantined, leaving schools unable to conduct in-person instruction.

As in all of his communications with the community, Scholl encouraged everyone in Sisters Country to continue being diligent about minimizing the spread of the virus.

He said, “I continue to ask that our community follow COVID-safety protocol: wear a mask, socially distance, and wash your hands. Although the COVID case count dropped slightly in Deschutes County, we still need a significant reduction to get all students back into our hybrid model.”


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