LA GRANDE — The atmosphere at Island City Elementary School, La Grande, is ticking up a beat — and for good reason.
Monday, Oct. 5, will be a red-letter date for all elementary schools in the La Grande School District, marking the first time since mid-March, when all of the district’s schools were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that some students will be attending classes at their schools.
The school district has met state safety standards allowing for students in kindergarten through third grade to return to classes in person. This means K-3 students no longer have to take classes via distance learning, which they and the rest of the students in the district have been doing.
First-year Island City Elementary principal Brett Smith said there is a heightened sense of anticipation in his school.
“There is a buzz in the building, a very positive one,” Smith said. “There is a feeling of hope and optimism.”
The principal said teachers are excited, and he feels good about the students returning.
“Kids are not meant to be in front of a computer for hours and hours,” Smith said.
Central Elementary School principal Suzy Mayes said in an email that her staff also is delighted students will be returning soon.
“All of us are excited to welcome our students back to school. Our staff have been preparing their classrooms all week for the day we all have been waiting for,” Mayes said.
Many precautions will be in effect to protect children from COVID-19. For example, all students will stay in their classrooms throughout the day except when they go outside for recess.
“It will be a family unit,” Smith said.
Rather than students going to a cafeteria for breakfast and lunch, meals will come to their classrooms. And restrictions will keep students from certain portions of playgrounds and fields, so they will not come into contact with students outside their class and they will not be where other children have been.
Smith also noted classes cannot share playground objects, such as basketballs, with other classes.
Mayes, like Smith, said the process of making sure students will be safe is meticulous.
“I believe we have done our utmost to make sure we have covered all our bases. We have gone over and over the guidelines and have met repeatedly with our admin team to figure this all out,” the Central principal said.
Smith said teachers have known for weeks there was a good chance the school district would be able to have K-3 students on-site starting Oct. 5.
“(The K-3 announcement) was not a surprise,” said Smith, who was La Grande High School’s assistant principal for two years before taking his position at Island City Elementary in July.
Smith said he was impressed with the professionalism his staff demonstrated this summer, noting many teachers worked hard to boost their online teaching skills.
“Our staff has done a great job of adapting. A lot of our staff took classes to get up to speed,” he said.
Fourth and fifth graders at the La Grande School District’s elementary schools will be missing on Monday because state COVID-19 standards for their return have not yet been met. Mayes said she hopes they can be back at school shortly.
“It is truly a bittersweet situation because it feels very awkward to not bring back our fourth and fifth graders. We will certainly miss them and hope they join us soon,” Mayes said.
K-3 students will be attending school on-site Monday through Friday. There will not be a staggered start and the school day will run from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., according to a letter La Grande School District Superintendent George Mendoza wrote to school district staff, parents and community members.
If families of K-3 students do not want their child to return at this time, they will need to visit with their teacher and principal, Mendoza wrote. Students have the option of transitioning to the La Grande Learning Academy for long-term virtual education.
Students who cannot attend on-site because of short-term illness, quarantine or other medical situations will have access to asynchronous learning from their teachers. This means instead of live instruction they will receive lessons via recorded videos, written instructional materials and other means.