Ainsley Driver-Murdock, a 7-year-old second grader at Hucrest Elementary School, is excited to go back to school and see her friends and teachers.
“I like that I get to learn and see my friends,” Ainsley said.
Ainsley was excited to see all her favorite teachers again on Monday when the public elementary schools in Roseburg are scheduled to start in-person learning again.
She had a chance to meet her “really nice” teacher in person during the seven weeks that kindergarteners through third graders were learning on-site at Roseburg Public Schools in the fall.
Going to school in the fall also gave her a chance to learn all the safety protocols put in place by the school district, which include face masks, distancing, sanitizing and a host of other rules to keep COVID-19 at bay.
While there have been cases of COVID-19 in schools, there has been limited transmission in schools — especially in schools with protocols in place — according to state education and health officials.
“Wearing masks isn’t super fun, but it’s OK because it protects other people,” Ainsley said.
Joey Fowler and his mom Susan Hunt are also eager for schools to open back up.
The 8-year-old third grader said he was excited to play at the playground and see his friends again, but also to get the help he needs from his teacher.
“It’s been a little hard,” Joey said about remote learning. “There is not so much help.”
Hunt said teachers were doing a better job explaining things to her son in class.
“He needs to be in class with his classmates, and one-on-one with the teachers,” Hunt said. “He’s doing good with the social distancing and the distance learning, but he does so much better in class.”
And on top of that, having Joey return to school will mean she can go back to working a regular schedule.
She said she was lucky that her employer was understanding when she had to change her schedule after the school district made a decision on Nov. 16 that all students would return to distance learning by the following week.
“Thankfully they’re on board with it, they understand how it is, but it’s still it kind of puts them in a bind when at the last minute they decide ‘Oh, we’re going back to distance learning,’” Hunt said. “That means I can’t work during the day. I have to be home. So, (my employer) has to change everybody else’s schedule to accommodate me.
“With him going back to school, I can go back to the regular schedule of having the day shifts. That’s the hardest part, work.”
For Joey, Ainsley and all the other children who were able to go to school in the fall, it will be familiar. But fourth and fifth graders will be returning for the first time this school year, it will be a little different than normal.
Cafeterias won’t be packed at lunchtime, and buses will look mostly empty as well. All of this to adhere to state guidelines and keep students safe.
Roseburg Public Schools announced Tuesday that although elementary schools would open their doors on Monday, the middle schools and high school would remain closed for now.
“First and foremost, it has been our unwavering goal to return all students to in-person or hybrid learning this school year,” Superintendent Jared Cordon said. “Our methods for achieving this goal are centered on one conviction that has not changed: We are committed to maintaining the health and safety of our students, our staff, and our entire community. As we have done throughout the school year, we are continuing to follow the state’s metrics framework.”
Gov. Kate Brown announced those metrics are advisory, which is also written in the new guidance from the Oregon Department of Education and Oregon Health Authority, but Cordon insists the district continue to follow the metrics to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools and the community.
The metrics released Tuesday were a bit more relaxed than previous guidelines. According to these new metrics it would be safe for all students to be on-site when there are less than 200 cases per 100,000 people during a two-week period. On Tuesday, the state reported there were 211.1 cases per 100,000 people during that time frame in Douglas County — the first time it’s been over 200 in four weeks.
Although the district announced Tuesday that grades 6-12 would go back to school the Monday after the metrics were met, Cordon said on Thursday that he didn’t want to speculate about what would happen if metrics were met for just one week.
“In these uncertain times, it is not appropriate or fair to our students and staff to speculate about hypotheticals,” he wrote. “As we have throughout the school year, we will continue to monitor case rates and adjust our plans accordingly with the health and safety of our staff, students and community in mind.”
Staff members throughout the school district overwhelmingly asked for the vaccine, according to a survey by Roseburg Education Association President Camron Pope.
“Some key things that came out of the survey were teachers are scared and they want consistency,” Pope said on Monday. “They are really worried about their own personal health and teachers really stand behind the fact that we need to be vaccinated before we’re in front of kids. If we’re going to provide that instruction in person, then the community needs to support these teachers and push for us to get vaccinated before those students come back. Then we can protect our classrooms, we can protect our community.”
Roseburg High School staff members Sheri Carson, Chad Smith and Fawn Shilts said they’d all like to get the vaccine.
Roseburg High School and the two middle schools, Fremont and Jo Lane, have been offering Limited In-Person Instruction to students for the past few weeks. It allows students to go to campus on Wednesday and get on-site help from their teachers.
“It was awesome,” said Shilts, special education teacher and student services division leader. “For me, it was really neat to see the kids. I appreciated everybody following all the rules, there wasn’t any problem with that. So, that was really good. It was very good it filled my heart with joy.”
The district will continue to offer this opportunity until the schools switch to a hybrid learning model when it is safe to do so.
During Limited In-Person Instruction many of the same safety protocols are in place that students would see when they return to campus.
Carson, family and consumer science education teacher and career technical education division leader, said she’d encourage students to come to Limited In-Person Instruction not just for the benefit of learning, but also to see what safety looks like amid a pandemic.
“I do think, even though it’s a short period of time, the kids that did come in benefited from doing that,” Carson said. “Safety is our main concern and we have put in a lot of safety pieces but nobody has seen them. They don’t know what to expect if they’re going to send their child here.”
There are more than 160 safety measures set forth by the state that each school, and each district, has to abide by.
Smith, a science teacher and division leader for the science department, explained that students have to wear masks everywhere on the property, there are five different entrance points into the school, there are screeners, students have to sanitize their hands when they walk into a building, there are staff members making sure there’s bi-directional traffic and students maintain proper distance and inside the classrooms they’ll sit at spaced-out desks.
“The kids were outstanding for those two weeks, they followed directions perfectly,” Smith said. “They did what you told them to. I had to remind one time in the parking lot to have your mask on and it was on, I never had to remind a kid in my classroom. They just do it. It’s the same with my basketball girls when they were coming in for open gym.”
Smith said his son, a senior at the high school, came to school to see his teachers on Wednesday. Similarly, students in his class came by just to say hello or get out of their homes for a little while.
“I had one girl, I asked her if she was going to come and she says, ‘Absolutely, I’m at home with four other siblings and they’re all really young, I’ve got to get away from them,’” Smith said. “So, she came in and and worked on some stuff here. It was great.”
Nutrition services will continue to deliver meals throughout the school district during the partial reopening on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Students can get meals during limited in-person instruction and the Tuesday deliveries will also include an extra meal. Students who need help with anything else should contact their teacher or school counselor.
Cordon had a simple message for the students, “We’ve missed having you in our schools and are so eager and excited to welcome you back!”