NYSSA — In a packed Zoom meeting on Thursday afternoon (Zoom meetings cap out at 100) members of Nyssa School District’s administration gave an update to community members on what the fall might look like when school resumes on August 19.
Schools statewide have been shuttered since mid-May following an executive order by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown when the pandemic from the novel coronavirus COVID-19 first started spreading in the state.
With a total student population of about 1,200 and three facilities, Superintendent Darren Johnson said it is not outside of the realm of possibility that a lot of in-person classes are taking place starting in the fall.
Per the recent guidelines from the Oregon Department of Education, schools are to redo classroom size based on having 35 square feet of space per student.
According to Nyssa Middle School Principal Luke Cleaver, the average classroom between the middle school and high school has about 800 feet of usable space, which equates to 22 people per classroom.
Cleaver said the toughest issues that the district would be looking at is separating the cohorts (cohorts are defined as groups of students that stay together for the whole day, they were recommended by the state as a way to lessen contact spreading), recesses and meals.
Cleaver said he wants the cohorts (especially in the middle school and high school) to be as small as possible (the school can fit 20 students in each class, but he was aiming for 10-12) because if one student is to contact the virus that will lessen the impact on other students.
While schools in Oregon can’t force students to wear facial coverings in school, Cleaver said he would hope that they can get students to do it.
“I would love every kid to wear a mask,” Cleaver said. “I want to teach kids that they need to embrace masks. And we have to reach parents. Say, ‘Hey you don’t want to have your kid at home all the time, right?’”
All the principals of the district agreed that they need to have a complete plan for online learning ready in case of an outbreak that closes the school.
Over the week, Johnson said three Nyssa School District employees tested positive for COVID-19.
“That really shows the reach of how one or two positives can change the dynamics of this so quickly,” Cleaver said.
At the elementary school, Principal Matt Murray said the cohorts will be the classes, with teachers changing which rooms they are in to lessen the chances of students coming into contact with one another.
“Online instruction is not, particularly at the elementary level, is not what in-person instruction is,” Murray said.
Cleaver said the middle school and the high school will have to figure out their scheduling plan together, as the two share 10 teachers.
Cleaver added that the middle school has 14 classrooms with no sink, which means they will either need to bring in hand washing stations or figure out a plan to have hand washing facilities scheduled.
When asked about plans for lunch, Nyssa High School Principal Brett Jackman answered saying they were unsure of the plan.
“It’s still TBD,” Jackman said. He said they are looking at different plans like utilizing both the cafeteria and the gym for the extra space, or even having students eat in the classrooms. However, having students in the classrooms will affect the teachers, who are legally required to take a lunch break of their own, Jackman added.
Jackman also noted that there will need to be steps taken so the school can offer electives to all students.
“Online just cannot happen for CTE classes,” Jackman said.
One thing that several people in the Zoom meeting asked about was athletics, especially football in the fall. When asked by Director of District Operations Ryan Hawkins if there would be football this year, some administrators were unsure.
“I sure hope so,” Jackman replied.
Johnson said he was nervous because the school district is creating cohorts within the school just for those cohorts to be broken for something like football practice, and then mix the team with cohorts from another school.