The Vale School District Board of Directors unanimously approved a measure to return to in-person instruction for schools in Vale on Wednesday night at a special public meeting. The targeted start date for reopening is Jan. 19.

The schools in Vale, like other public schools in Oregon, have had to close their doors for full-time in-person learning due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the related state mandates from Oregon Gov. Kate Brown.

The meeting, which took place in the gymnasium of Vale Middle School, drew out members of the community to hear more about the plan to reopen schools for in-person instruction.

In late December, a newsletter from Vale School District Superintendent Alisha McBride explained that following a special board meeting, the Board of Directors approved a resolution to request action from Brown.

That resolution covered requests to reevaluate the metrics for reopening schools and prioritizing a return to in-person instruction, including cited scientific data that asserts that schools reopening have not resulted in a higher community spread of COVID.

McBride opened the meeting with a presentation outlining the reasons for Vale schools to be reopened.

In her presentation, she said that the Vale School District comprises over 650 square miles and that since March 1 of 2020, the enrollment has dropped by 12% or 111 students.

McBride said that the lack of in-person instruction can lead to increases in mental health problems in students, saying that the kids are experiencing stress from the schools’ closures and that unlike adults, most children lack the necessary “coping mechanisms” to deal with these events.

What does full return to in-person instruction entail?

McBride provided visual aids with her presentation in which she outlined the details of reopening.

• Students are to attend all-day school, adhering to established safety and health protocols, including social distancing measures and wearing face coverings. The instructional schedules already in use will be maintained as a measure to minimize contacts.

• On-site learning will replace instruction via Zoom.

• In the instance of a student or cohort requiring quarantining, the classroom’s teacher will “support temporary distance learning for the student(s).”

• Transportation will be provided by the Vale School District to and from school.

• During the school day, students will be provided with breakfast and lunch.

• Should a family or legal guardian choose to not send their child to on-site learning, “the family will be provided with the opportunity to enroll their child in the District’s online learning academy.” As a side note, the online instruction will not be supported by classroom teachers, but instead will be taught by teachers assigned to the online learning academy.

McBride noted that guidance for the remainder of the school year will come from “Ready Schools, Safe Learners; Guidance for School Year 2020-2021,” a health and safety guidance publication posted online by that gives a practical approach to maintaining health and safety protocols.

She said that the next version of this publication will be released on Jan. 19.

Following McBride’s presentation, the floor was opened for public comments in which members of the community had the opportunity to share their view on this topic with the Board, many of whom voiced their support for the return to in-person instruction.

Board Member Darlene McConnell said that the students miss “their friends” and “P.E. [physical education].”

“It’s quite evident we need to get back to in-person,” added Board Chairman Michael McGourty.

When the time came for a vote, board members voted unanimously in favor of giving families the option of returning K-12 students to in-person instruction, eliciting a thunderous applause from those in attendance.

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