Administrators from Clatsop County school districts weighed in at a press conference Wednesday about what seems to be a successful school year so far, as COVID-19 continues to define how adults and children interact outside of home. Joanne Rideout reports. [Scroll down to listen]
“I think the community needs to understand the details that we have gone to, to be able to contact trace. There’s not a kid in the district who can’t go somewhere and we don’t know where they’re at. When they’re on a bus we know what seat they’re on; when they go to lunch we know what seat they’re on. And that’s how detailed it is across the board, all day, every day.”
That’s Craig Hoppes, superintendent of Astoria schools. He said this attention to detail is making schools safe places to be, and when cases do happen, schools are catching them so quickly that spread is minimal. He said this is what it takes to keep schools open and safe right now.
“When kids are in between classes they’re constantly moving. Nobody stands around and visits. Yesterday we were dealing with a case – I have administrators with rulers out, measuring desks to see how far kids are away. So it is fine details that we have to do, but that’s what we need to do to keep kids in and we will continue to do that.”
This sentiment was echoed by other superintendents in the county press conference, as supers from Seaside, Warrenton, and Jewel also weighed in. The general consensus among them is that things with careful protocols in place, things are going well, cases are few, and action is swift when cases do arise.
While most kids are back to school in person, Warrenton and Astoria still offer online instruction for students who prefer that option. It’s also good preparedness.
Tom Rogozinski is Warrenton’s superintendent: “We are offering it as part of a regular part of our program this year as well, for parents who opted for it from the beginning of the year. And we also know we are building capacity just in case we would have to be pushed to it in a temporary setting within a classroom or a grade level.”
Hoppes said the pandemic has helped the district better understand how to serve students. Some students were very successful at online learning and wanted to continue to have that option. Now the district has something called the Astoria Choice Online Academy. The program has over a hundred kids in it, K-12, staffed by three or four different teachers.”
But that doesn’t mean kids have to miss out on school activities.
Hoppes: “If you’re in the Astoria Choice Online Academy and you want to play volleyball, you go to school at home, you come play volleyball in the afternoon.”
Seaside and Jewell are not offering online instruction currently. Seaside superintendent Susan Penrod said the district surveyed parents and found little support for online classes. Jewell superintendent Steven Phillips said some students had elected to participate in an online charter school, and the district has released them to do that.
Overall, administrators felt that their schools were safe havens.
Rogozinski: “Schools are amongst the safest places for kids to be in the midst of the pandemic. Because what we’re looking at seems to suggest that cases are showing up at school and getting caught because of the protocols we have in place.”
While Clatsop County schools seem to have escaped significant COVID outbreaks so far this school year, at least one school across the Columbia River in Pacific County, Washington, is not so fortunate. The Chinook Observer reported this week that Ilwaco High School has returned to remote learning at least for a week, because of an outbreak there. Ocean Beach School District administrators think the cases are tied to the district’s athletic programs and have suspended all sports activities except for cross country.
I’m Joanne Rideout in Astoria.