UNION COUNTY — All Union County school districts plan to provide at least a portion of their classes on site when their classes begin in late August and early September.
That is their overall status following the announcement of the state’s new standards for reopening, which were released Tuesday, Aug. 11. The state lowered the metrics that small school districts, with 250 or fewer students, and those in counties with 30,000 or fewer residents must meet before reopening.
La Grande, the largest of Union County’s school districts, is set to open Aug. 31 for in-person instruction in kindergarten through third grade at all of its elementary schools. Students in grades four to 12 will attend classes via the school district’s Comprehensive Distance Learning Program or the La Grande Learning Academy, the district’s online school.
Robin Maille, chairwoman of the La Grande School Board, said she hoped most students in grades four to 12 take the Comprehensive Distance Learning option. She explained that students in Comprehensive Distance Learning will be able to come back to school for on-site classes immediately when metrics allow it. Students in the La Grande Learning Academy would have to wait until the semester break before returning to the classroom.
La Grande students in kindergarten through third grade are scheduled to attend classes on-site under a “stable cohort model,” meaning the same group of students will be together all day. The district’s three elementary schools — Central, Greenwood and Island City — will release more information about hours of operation as the first day of school nears.
Because the other school districts in Union County have 250 or fewer students, they have the option of providing on-site instruction for all students, providing the county continues to meet state requirements.
The Cove School District will offer classes on site to all grades starting Aug. 31. In addition, online courses will be available to all students, said Cove Superintendent Earl Pettit, to help students and families who feel uncomfortable about returning to on-site classes because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cove students will be part of seven cohorts: kindergarten students, grades one and two, grades three and four, grades five and six, grades seven and eight, freshmen and sophomores, and junior and seniors. During school, students will only be around students in their cohort, Pettit said. And to maintain distances between cohorts, each will have its own lunch period.
“We will have seven lunch periods,” Pettit said.
The superintendent said elementary school teaching will remain fairly traditional. However, students in grades seven to 12 will rarely use classrooms that members of other cohorts have already been in. Before students in a cohort uses a classroom another cohort has used, the room will have to undergo extensive sanitization, Pettit said.
Teachers will have to wear masks if they are instructing students from more than one cohort during a school day, Pettit said, but students will not have to wear masks as long as social distancing standards are met and they are with fellow members of their cohort. Students, however, will be required to wear masks while riding school buses.
“You can’t social distance on a school bus,” Pettit said.
The North Powder School District is set to open Sept. 8 with a hybrid model. Students in kindergarten through eighth grade will be taught on site each day of the district’s four-day week. High school students will be taught on site and online on an alternating day basis. High school students will be assigned to one of two cohorts — one will be taught on site Mondays and Wednesdays, and online on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Students in the second cohort will have an onsite and online schedule opposite of the first cohort’s, said North Powder School District Superintendent Lance Dixon.
He said the district is in a good position to offer on-site learning because its classrooms are large enough to meet social distancing standards.
The Union School District is preparing to make on-site instruction available to all students when it opens Aug 31. Union School District Superintendent Carter Wells said if there is a spike in COVID-19 cases in the county, it is likely state rules would force his district to stop its on-site program for students in grades four to 12 and instead provide them online instruction. The school district, however, likely would be able to continue providing onsite instruction for students in kindergarten through third grade under the state’s metrics, Wells said.
The superintendent stressed Union’s return to on-site instruction is dependent upon the number of new COVID-19 cases remaining low.
“We are relying on the people of Union County to limit the number of COVID-19 cases,” Wells said.
Plans are in place for the Imbler School District to open Aug. 31, also with on-site instruction available to all students. Imbler School District Superintendent Angie Lakey-Campbell said students will be in cohorts of 25-30 people, and the cohorts will be kept separated. This will involve not allowing students in different cohorts to be on the elementary school playground at the same time, assigning cohorts specific entries and exit doors and more.
The Elgin School District also opens Aug. 31 by offering on-site classes to students. Students whose family does not want to risk coming to school will be able to take classes online via eDynamic Learning, a new program the district is offering.
On-site classes will not vary dramatically at Stella Mayfield Elementary School from its traditional model, in which students stay in their classrooms with the same classmates for most of the day. At Elgin High School, which serves grades seven to 12, students will be in cohorts that will make a minimum of classroom transitions each school day. A variety of teachers will come into their classrooms to provide instruction, said Elgin School District Superintendent Dianne Greif.