Jordan Valley High School

Jordan Valley High School as seen on July 31, 2020. 

JORDAN VALLEY

For the first time since mid-March, some students in Malheur County will be returning to classrooms.

Upwards of 70 miles from any other Malheur County towns, students in Jordan Valley will be back to school in full starting on Monday.

The latest guidance from the Oregon Department of Education on schools reopening allowed the smallest school districts in the state to bring students back into the classrooms, and Superintendent Rusty Bengoa said that’s exactly what the district is planning on doing.

On Tuesday, Jordan Valley School District posted its reopening plan for the 2020-2021 school year, and while the school has check-marked Hybrid Learning for reopening, all of Jordan Valley’s 49 students will be in the schools on Monday.

Bengoa said the school district selected Hybrid Learning because they are also ready to facilitate a move to distance learning if they need to.

A senior at Jordan Valley High School, Kiana Quintero said she was “excited and relieved” to be returning to school this year.

Quintero said Jordan Valley’s distance learning model in the spring was “very productive,” adding that the high school was able to hold its annual science fair virtually, allowing students to present their projects that they had been working on since before schools closed in the spring.

A self-described visual learner, Quintero said she struggled with math when she wasn’t able to work with a teacher and struggled to stay motivated.

“If we would’ve had to continue with distance learning this year, it definitely would have felt like a waste,” Quintero said. “Teachers can’t physically see the efforts you put into all of your work before turning it in, and understanding all of the new work assigned would have been a whole new level of difficult.”

According to Bengoa, school in Jordan Valley will be largely business as usual, except with students following state regulations like wearing facial coverings, washing their hands more regularly and social distancing guidance in effect.

With 49 students in the school district this year, Bengoa said the largest class would be seven students. This is far below the limits set by ODE earlier this summer (designating classroom size based on giving every student 35 square feet of open space).

Quintero said it should have been a no-brainer from the start that Jordan Valley School District be allowed to open.

“It only made sense for us to go back to school, knowing we were a small school with less than 18 kids in the entire school and less than 10 kids in every class,” Quintero added.

Despite not having any positive cases of COVID-19 in Jordan Valley, Quintero also said that many of her peers have been following state guidelines (like wearing masks) throughout the summer. She said she believes that students will continue to follow those guidelines to make sure school stays open.

On Wednesday night, Bengoa said the Jordan Valley community had a virtual open house via Zoom to get ready for the 20-21 school year.

“We had a good portion of the parents there and everyone was positive and receptive,” he said.

A wild summer

Over the course of the summer, schools state-wide have been running through multiple plans for how they can, and whether they can, reopen.

On June 28, ODE released a new metrics-based approach to reopening plans.

If a county’s metrics were above a certain threshold, they had to open via distance learning.

• County case rate: Less than or equal to 10 cases per 100,000 population in the preceding seven days.

• County test positivity: Less than or equal to 5% in the preceding seven days.

• State test positivity: Less than or equal to 5% in the preceding seven days.

The new restrictions also came with an exemption for students between kindergarten and third grade, remote and rural small schools, and students who require needed support (students with disabilities, career and technical education classes).

However, those restrictions also come with their own metrics in order to qualify:

• COVID-19 is not actively spreading among the school community.

• The case rate in the county is less than or equal to 30 cases per per 100,000 population in the preceding 14 days.

• The test positive rate in the county is less than or equal to 5% in the preceding 14 days.

• Schools fully comply with sections 1-3 of the Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance.

On Aug. 11, the state released an amendment to the guidance, which added Malheur County to a new category, with new metrics, because Malheur County has a population density of less than six people per square mile.

The new metrics for Malheur County are as follows:

• County cases: Fewer than 30 in the last three weeks, with less than half of those cases being reported in the last week of the three week period.

• Schools fully comply with sections 1-3 of the Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance.

• The local public health authority must indicate that there is no community spread.

While Malheur County still does not meet those standards for reopening schools, the latest ODE guidance added an exemption for small schools (those with fewer than 75 students in the district). In Malheur County, this opened the door for Jordan Valley, Arock and Juntura school districts to let students back into the classroom, as long as there is no community spread as determined by Malheur County Health Department.

Nik Streng is a sports and news reporter at The Argus Observer. He can be reached at (541) 823-4806 or by emailing niklass@argusobserver.com. Comment on this story at www.argusobserver.com.

Nik Streng is the sports reporter for the Argus Observer. He graduated from the University of Oregon in 2015 with a master's degree in journalism, after graduating from Pacific University in 2013 with a degree in creative writing.

Load comments