UNION COUNTY — From onsite to online — again.
Students in the Cove, Elgin, Imbler, North Powder and Union school districts may have to go from receiving instruction onsite to online once more in early January due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The state may mandate this move in these five school districts, all which now offer onsite instruction, unless COVID-19 rates in Union County decline.
The state’s Safe Harbor program, which allows small school districts in small counties to offer onsite instruction even if their counties have COVID-19 rates above the state threshold, is set to expire Jan. 4, 2021.
Should this occur, the Cove, Elgin, Imbler, North Powder and Union school districts would have to begin offering only distance education to students. The La Grande School District, which is not a Safe Harbor district because of its larger size, is not offering general onsite instruction now.
North Powder School District Superintendent Lance Dixon said he is hopeful the state will take action to prevent campuses from closing by extending the Safe Harbor deadline or changing the metrics counties have to meet for schools to offer onsite instruction. He said if the COVID-19 rate falls significantly in Union County, its five smaller school schools would not have to shift to distance education.
Dixon said he believes the state should take into account how successful Union County’s small school district’s have been at preventing COVID-19 outbreaks before forcing their students back into receiving online instruction. He noted there have been few cases COVID-19 cases in schools despite high levels of positive cases in the county.
For example, the North Powder School District has had just one case in three and a half months, and that involved a student who was exposed to the virus outside the school district. Fortunately, no other students contracted COVID-19.
Dixon said students receiving instruction onsite are actually in a good situation with regard to COVID-19.
“They are wearing masks and are social distancing. They are in a very secure environment,” Dixon said.
The superintendent said state officials, including Colt Gill, the state’s deputy superintendent of public instruction, appear willing to consider extending the Safe Harbor expiration date. Dixon said this is encouraging.
“Colt Gill wants kids back in school,” Dixon said.
Imbler School District Superintendent Angie Lakey-Campbell is leading an effort to get students and parents to conduct a social media campaign encouraging state officials to allow Union County’s Safe Harbor schools to remain open. Videos of students making this request will be sent to state officials as part of the campaign.
“It is important for (state officials) to see how kids are impacted,” Lakey-Campbell said.
Dixon said he thinks the videos will be effective.
“Kids have a powerful voice. They are the ones who have lost the most,” Dixon said.
The educator noted many students have not been able to enjoy activities and interactions that are synonymous with attending school.
“All of the experiences of adolescence have been taken away. It tugs at your heartstrings,” Dixon said.
Elgin School District Superintendent Dianne Greif said she is operating on the assumption her school district will be able to continue offering onsite instruction in January.
“I’m trying to stay positive,” Greif said.
Still, she said her district’s teachers are well prepared to make the switch to online instruction. Greif noted some of her faculty are practicing providing online instruction to their students at school to get them ready for the real thing.
Cove School District Superintendent Earl Pettit also said his teachers are ready to make the shift back to distance learning if necessary.
“All we need is one day to get ready,” Pettit said. “Since day one (when students returned to campus in September for onsite instruction) we have been ready to shift.”