Vale high School murals

The new murals on the north-facing wall at Vale High School, as seen in early March.

VALE — With a massive majority of community members voting for it, the Vale School District announced on Wednesday evening that it will be working to return to in-person classes this fall.

Vale School District, along with most schools in the state, has been closed since mid-March following an executive order by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown in response to the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

In an email update to community members, Vale School District Superintendent Alisha McBride said the district is “developing a plan to facilitate on-site learning when students return to school in August.”

This comes after the school district sent out a survey to parents and community members, asking how people feel about different models of learning. The results of the survey were overwhelmingly for returning to classes, with 87% of responders saying they support on-site learning while 74% responded “no” when supporting a return to distance learning.

McBride did not add specifics on what the reopening plan will look like, since schools statewide are still waiting on more guidance from the state.

“We ask for your patience as we finalize the specific plan details, as our instructional model must align with guidance that will continue to be updated throughout the summer by the Oregon Department of Education,” McBride said in the statement.

During the Vale School District Board of Directors’ June 11 meeting, McBride broke down that the district has the square-footage to return all students to school. One of ODE’s biggest changes to school in the fall will be readjusting classroom size to allot 35 square feet per person.

Vale High School, which had 254 students in the 18-19 school year, has a wide range of classroom sizes (one as small at 368 square feet and one as big as 912 square feet). Using the total square-footage of the classrooms, McBride said the high school can hold 296 students (not including staff). Per the guidelines, Vale Middle School could have 142 students (it had an enrollment of 112 in 18-19), Vale Elementary School could have 550 students (it had 444 in 18-19) and Willowcreek Elementary School could have 107 students (it had 94 in 18-19).

McBride noted that these figures do not include square-footage lost due to furniture or other items in classrooms, teachers and other staff (who will also require a 35 square foot space) and special use classrooms (such as special education or English Language Learner classrooms).

Vale kitchen

During Wednesday morning’s school board meeting, McBride said the Vale High School kitchen remodel is on-track, with the sheetrock completed. At a previous board meeting, McBride said the kitchen is scheduled to be completed by the end of July.

The kitchen is being completed as part of the bond that was based in November of 2016. The kitchen project was streamlined after the school was closed in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as school administrators were originally figuring out ways to have the construction while students were still in the building.

Summer meals

Like many other school districts in Oregon, Vale School District is continuing its lunch program for students.

McBride said Vale School District has served 5,286 meals in the first three weeks of the program, and average of 352 per day (over one-third of the district’s student population).

Willlowcreek well

According to McBride, Dig Well Idaho should be at Willowcreek Elementary School by the end of the week. The plan at Willowcreek is to re-drill the existing well on the property, which has tested positive for E. coli.

The work had been scheduled for earlier in the year, but was delayed due to the heavy rain in the spring.

The E. coli present in the well was found in mid-September of 2019. Students and staff members of Willowcreek had been using water dispensers in every room. McBride said the testing for E. coli was done as a routine test, and no one became sick from the water.

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. To comment on this story, go to 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.

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