As school districts in Umatilla County return students to the classroom, the preparation has looked much different than a normal school year.

“Two weeks ago, we bought 50,000 wipes,” Echo School District Superintendent Raymon Smith said.

Students use the sanitizing wet wipes to wipe down their desk and chair every time they come into a classroom or leave it. It’s a lot of work, but it’s one of the many safety measures that has allowed Echo School students to go back to in-person learning. Kindergarten through fifth grade returned on Jan. 25, and sixth through 12th grade students returned on Monday, Feb. 1.

“We’re full bore hybrid,” Smith said. “Everyone is back in school.”

The hybrid schedule means students aren’t in the classroom full time, yet. Half visit the school on Mondays and Wednesdays and half on Tuesdays and Thursdays, while working online and completing homework on their “off” days. But for most students, it’s the first time they’ve been able to work with their teacher face to face in almost a year, and Smith said only four students have opted to remain in online-only mode.

Hermiston School District

Hermiston School District announced it plans to return kindergarten and first grade students to the classroom on Tuesday, Feb. 16, after schools take a day off for President’s Day.

Like many plans this year, the return is contingent on the Hermiston ZIP code not seeing a significant uptick in COVID-19 cases before then. After seeing cases spike after holiday gatherings, such as Halloween parties, the Oregon Health Authority is cautioning people to avoid holding in-person Super Bowl parties that could become super-spreader events that drive up cases again.

If cases hold steady for Hermiston kindergarteners and first graders to return, students will be divided into two groups, according to the news release, with Group A learning on-site from 7:55-11:55 a.m., and then returning home for virtual school in the afternoons. Group B will learn from home in the morning and attend in person from 11:55 a.m. to 3:05 p.m. Fridays will be “flex” days, with all students learning from home.

The split schedule will allow the district to accommodate requirements for social distancing and keeping students in small “cohorts” to limit exposure if someone does get sick. To maintain those cohorts, students who get bussed to school will be included in Group A and students in walking distance in Group B.

“With the downward trend in Hermiston case counts, we are excited to start hybrid learning for kindergarten and first grade students on February 16,” Superintendent Tricia Mooney said in a statement. “It is our goal that by releasing the school day model it will allow families the necessary planning time to accommodate the schedule.”

The district is also asking for parent volunteers to assist with screening students for symptoms and other additional duties.

School staff will be reaching out to parents to confirm students wish to participate in hybrid learning instead of continuing with comprehensive distance learning. More information can be found online at hermiston.k12.or.us under the “HSD COVID info” tab.

Stanfield School District

Stanfield School District Superintendent Beth Burton said it’s hard to believe that by the time secondary school students return in Stanfield, it will have been 11 months since most have seen the inside of a classroom.

Starting on Monday, Feb. 8, kindergarten through fifth grade students in Stanfield will be able to return to in-person learning from 7:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Burton said it took a lot of work to fit all students in the school with the requisite 35 square feet of space per student and desks 6 feet apart, but they made it work with the help of placing the two largest classes in the gym and library.

“We would measure rooms and take out everything we could,” she said.

Secondary school students are expected to return on Feb. 16. Any students who wish to remain online-only are able to do so through the InterMountain Education Service District’s virtual academy. Burton said the district has also set up opportunities for students to tune in virtually if they need to quarantine in the event a member of their family tests positive for COVID-19 or they are exposed another way.

Like all districts in Oregon, Stanfield will be following pages of rules for preventing the spread of viruses, including sanitation protocols, social distancing, masks and screening students for symptoms when they arrive.

“I hope folks know we spent a ton of time planning,” Burton said. “We’ve really looked at the guidance, and we feel our plan meets all of that guidance. We’re really focused on safety.”

Umatilla School District

Umatilla School District Superintendent Heidi Sipe said she and other school staff are “over the moon excited” about getting ready to welcome students back into the classroom.

The district recently started the “limited in-person instruction” phase by bringing back a few students in select categories, such as special education and English language learners. Sipe said they plan to start hybrid learning for all kindergarten through second grade students the last week of February, and keep adding a few more grades each week from that point.

Students will attend classes on an A-B schedule, with half the students attending one day and half the next. Sipe said they just couldn’t find a way to fit all students in the space available at the same time with the required social distancing.

“What we were told square footage wise works awesome on paper, but when you actually put kids in the classroom you can fit about half of what it looks like on paper,” she said.

The A-B schedule will allow the district to offer bussing, however, although Sipe said walking or rides from parents are encouraged where possible.

So far, students who have come back for limited in-person instruction have done well in the classroom, she said.

“The kids take wearing a mask really seriously,” she said.

The district will be reaching out to parents over the next few days to ask if the information they filled out in August is still correct or if they would rather switch their choice of hybrid or online-only learning.

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