The process for reopening schools in Roseburg should be based on public health and science, not politics, Roseburg Public Schools Superintendent Jared Cordon said Wednesday night.
The comments came during a Zoom school board meeting where members also appointed Brandon Bishop to replace Joe Garcia, who resigned in May.
Cordon’s comments came during a presentation of the current draft of the district’s reopening plans for schools.
“Returning to school is undoubtedly an important component for the healthy development and well-being of our children, and it is imperative that we design a plan for reopening that prioritizes the safety of our students, our staff and our entire community,” Cordon said in a prepared statement. “The decision making on safely reopening our schools should be driven by public health and science, and not by politics.”
Under the current proposal, parents would have the option to keep elementary school students at home to learn remotely five days per week; or come to school with limited class sizes, group cohorts and increased measures to protect against COVID-19.
For students in sixth through 12th grades, the draft plan calls either for students to learn remotely, or a hybrid option that includes remote learning and an in-person block schedule. Students would attend four classes per day at 90 minutes each, while staying in the same cohort of peers during in-person classes two days a week.
“I do want to publicly express that although this plan meets the reopening requirements of the Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Department of Education, it is not possible for any school — including our schools — to guarantee that each of our kids and staff will be safe returning to school,” Cordon said.
Board member Rebecca Larson asked the group to consider students who are currently at-risk when making its decision.
“I’m incredibly concerned about our students that are in dangerous situations at home. I think we have kids who have been hungry for five months. I think we have kids that haven’t had a consistent, kind adult in their life for five months. And I don’t know the answer,” Larson said. “But my heart is breaking for the number of kids that I know that are in trouble and that need our public schools.”
In a survey by the district of 402 students and 1,517 families, around 80% of each group said they were either extremely comfortable or comfortable returning to school in the fall.
The comfort level of the 344 staff members surveyed was not measured, but a sample of concerns by staff members included attendance, mental health and stress and a possible COVID-19 outbreak.
In the end, the board agreed to continue discussing reopening plans.
After the presentation, board member Micki Hall addressed the group and shared her concerns about social distancing, building ventilation and the feasibility of the proposals.
“I think there are too many things about the virus that we do not know, even now, for us to make plans that are set in stone,” Hall said. “But my thoughts on this is: here we are as a school board meeting on Zoom, because we don’t feel safe meeting in the same room together, 6 feet apart. And yet we’re going to ask 1,700 high school kids and how many thousands of elementary kids to meet together and have school.”
Bishop and Dr. Nathan Hamm were both considered for the vacant school board position before the board ended approving Bishop with a 4-2 vote. Directors Micki Hall and Charles Lee cast the two votes for Hamm.
Before the final vote, Cordon thanked both for putting their names in.
“It was a pleasure to have the time to speak to both Dr. Nathan Hamm and Dr. Brandon Bishop, who both put in their names for being interested in this position,” Cordon said. “It is definitely a large commitment for a person to come in and take on the responsibility of the board.”
Bishop then recited his oath of office.
Following the appointment, the board also voted Rebecca Larson as chairman of the board for the 2020-2021 school year, and kept Steve Patterson as vice chair.
The group also approved the use of expenditures to facilitate reopening, including individual student desks, Chromebooks and the Canvas learning management system for online instruction.