Due to the increase in COVID-19 cases in Tillamook County, as well as increased COVID-19 related deaths, two school districts have planned to delay the start of the school year. Neah-Kah-Nie School District and Nestucca Valley School District plan to begin a comprehensive distance learning model Monday, Sept. 13. Tillamook School District will begin in-person learning Tuesday, Sept. 7.
Neah-Kah-Nie School District
Neah-Kah-Nie School District announced Monday, Aug. 30, plans to delay the beginning of the school year to Sept. 13, and will begin with comprehensive distance learning. The district had previously planned for a start of in-person learning to begin Tuesday, Sept. 7.
According to a letter to the community from Superintendent Paul Erlebach, the school district’s goal is to transition from comprehensive distance learning to in-person instruction as soon as possible once the data indicates in-person instruction is safe.
Extra-curricular activities at the middle and high school are temporarily suspended, as of Aug. 30. On Thursday, Sept. 2, middle school athletes were cleared to begin football practice Sept. 7 and volleyball and cross country on Sept. 13. There were no updates on high school sports as of press time.
The school district held a meeting Wednesday, Sept. 1, via Zoom to discuss the upcoming school year and answer questions from parents, staff and students. Erlebach said he and the principals discussed a return date of Oct. 18, but if the district can transition before that date, they will.
Gov. Kate Brown announced a vaccine mandate in August, requiring all K-12 school employees to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18.
“We’re in a pandemic, and with the numbers where they are, that’s why I made the decision,” Erlebach said.
A parent asked about testing athletes. Neah-Kah-Nie High School Principal Heidi Buckmaster said OHSU is going to be rolling out a screening program using the PCR test, mostly used for asymptomatic people. Before the roll out, OHSU has to complete a pilot program. Buckmaster offered to volunteer the school for the program.
“Any screening/testing that’s going to happen is still a little bit out,” Buckmaster said. “We have already completed all the registration paperwork required for us to participate in that. All we need is for parents to opt in.”
Nestucca Valley School District
Nestucca Valley School District announced Thursday, Sept. 2, that the school year will also begin in comprehensive distance learning, due to the COVID-19 spread in the county. The school district had previously delayed the start of the school year to Monday, Sept. 13.
Superintendent Misty Wharton stated in a letter to the community that the district would look at data points and consult the Tillamook County Health Department to make a decision about the model of instruction every two weeks.
School sports are still on. The school district will continue to offer sports as long as there is not an outbreak.
“We are not allowing spectators indoors and only allowing two spectators per athlete outdoors as a mitigation strategy,” Wharton stated. “We will offer live streaming of the competitions.”
Wharton stated once the district begins to see a decline in case counts, and an increase in the vaccinated population, they would begin to bring students back into the schools.
Students will begin distance learning as an entire day schedule. From Sept. 7 through Sept. 10, the district will communicate with students about new routines, how to pick up a laptop and student teacher assignments.
“The number one charge as the chief executive of the school district is to keep students and staff safe,” Wharton stated. “With the current level of spread, and positive test percentage, we cannot keep students safe with in-person instruction.”
Tillamook School District
Tillamook School District is scheduled to start school in person Tuesday, Sept. 7. Superintendent Curt Shelley said the district believes it can mitigate the virus and control the variables at school. Schools will be implementing mitigation strategies including regular sanitization of high touch surfaces, social distancing of a minimum of three feet, proper mask usage, proper ventilation strategies and the use of saltwater biocide nebulizers.
Masks are required indoors and on the bus. Students will be visually screened and will sanitize upon entry to the building daily. If a student becomes sick, they will be sent home.
“The staff being vaccinated is also comforting,” Shelley said.
Like many school districts in Oregon, Tillamook School District is struggling to fill vacant positions and retain staff. Shelley announced that effective Sept. 1, classified staff members will receive a 10 percent incentive and retention allocation.
“This is a one year incentive to assist in filling the number of vacant positions currently being advertised by offering a wage that is competitive given the current economic environment (COVID) and an effort to retain quality staff,” Shelley stated in a letter to staff.
The offer will be brought before the board of directors for approval at the Sept. 13 board meeting.
Shelley said the school district is scheduled to continue offering extra curricular activities but will be extra cautious for safety.