It has been more than six months since Madelyn Cory was sitting in a classroom at Bonanza Junior/Senior High School.
“It was March 12,” the Bonanza junior recalled Tuesday (Sept. 8), her first day back in a brick-and-mortar classroom since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools statewide last spring. “I am so very glad to be back. Six months is too long.”
Cory is among more than 6,800 students Klamath County School District who are returning to school either virtually or in person this week. The pandemic closed schools statewide last spring, and students spent more than two months distance learning from home.
Brick-and-mortar school buildings still aren’t fully reopen to students. The school district provided families with three choices – a hybrid model for those who want to return to face-to-face instruction as soon as restrictions allow; KCSD Online, a 100 percent online school; and Great Basin, a traditional homeschool program.
“We are doing our absolute best to provide a quality educational experience to all students regardless of whether they prefer in-person or distance learning,” said Glen Szymoniak, superintendent of the Klamath County School District.
The state is restricting in-person instruction based on COVID-19 cases and test positivity results. Klamath County metrics allow the district to bring back K-3 students districtwide and all students in its small, rural schools for in-person instruction via the hybrid model. Students in grades 4-6 in the district’s larger and suburban elementary schools started the year with comprehensive distance learning, logging in live online with their classroom teachers. Mazama and Henley high schools, Brixner Junior High School and Henley Middle School also started the school year today distance learning with their teachers.
Chiloquin Schools were canceled through Wednesday because of a wildfire that was forcing evacuations in the Chiloquin area.
The hybrid model divides students into A and B cohorts. Each cohort attends in-person class two days a week and does distance learning at home three days a week. Students and staff are required to wear face coverings or face shields and schools must follow strict health and hygiene protocols.
At Bonanza Elementary, students were directed to separate entrances based on grade level. They used hand sanitizer, grabbed a breakfast and then entered their classrooms. The younger students were given designer face shields provided by the district.
In Arianne Gray’s first-grade class, students sat at desks spaced more than six feet apart. Their coats and backpacks, instead of grouped on hooks in the back of the room, were put in individual plastic baskets near their desks.
“I’m just so glad to have them back,” Gray said last week as she was setting up her classroom. “I will get a chance to know them and build relationships with them.”
At the junior/senior high school next door, Cory and classmate Grace Orella talked about their hopes for the school year. The two are co-activity directors for Bonanza’s student leadership team, and are responsible for planning all-school assemblies and activities.
“We had a big event planned for this fall that we’ll move to spring,” Orella said. “We’re working on virtual assemblies.”
They believe it’s important for students to stay connected. “We’re trying to keep the spirit up,” Cory said. “I know I’ve been down the dumps lately knowing we can’t do normal things.”
Students across the district on Tuesday adjusted to new ways of doing things.
“Rub and scrub. Rub and scrub,” coached Peterson Elementary School kindergarten teacher Geralyn Smith. A sanitizing station inside the classroom door allowed students to clean their hands as they entered the classroom. “Keep rubbing your hands until they are dry. Good job!”
Down the hall, Lisa Beck’s second-grade classroom had 13 desks spread six feet apart. She and other teachers were taking advantage of the small class sizes, which allowed them to offer more individual help with lessons.
“We are trying to find the positives in all of this,” she said.
At Stearns Elementary, directional arrows in the hallways are spaced six feet apart, and between K-3 grade-level recesses, all the playground equipment is fogged with a sanitizer.
Teachers who are teaching via distance learning came to work on Tuesday to do so. Stearns fifth-grade teacher Brittany Rodriguez was conducting a writing lesson online using Schoology, the district’s new learning platform. All of her students logged in this morning, and were ready to learn.
“Everyone showed up,” she said. “The biggest challenge for them was to finding the links they needed.”
The district KCSD Online School students are being contacted by their teachers this week. The K-12 program is new to the district and was developed specifically for families who do not want their students back in the classrooms yet.
To remain open to in-person learning, Klamath County must maintain and continue to improve its health metrics. Each district school has specific plans that address health and sanitization protocols, contact tracing, outbreaks, transportation, and other COVID-19 specific issues.
Parents are asked to monitor their students and not send them to school if they have been exposed to COVID-19 or do not feel well. Novel coronavirus symptoms include a fever of 100.4 or above, persistent cough, trouble breathing, nausea, and other gastrointestinal symptoms.
Details of school-specific reopening plans and other updates, including information on grab-and-go meals, are on the district’s website at www.kcsd.k12.or.us.