Certain markers of the coronavirus pandemic — face masks, social distancing, students broken up into cohorts — will likely continue into the next school year, but the Astoria School District is planning for a return to more normal school operations in September.
At a meeting Wednesday night, school board members approved a plan that will allow students to return to school in-person, full time.
Last year, the school district opted to begin the school year with all students in remote learning and only began slowly bringing students back into classrooms in early 2021.
But the plan for next school year comes with several caveats.
The state is expected to release updated guidance for schools in mid-July. Depending on the course of the pandemic at that time, the announcement could allow the school district to continue as planned or severely alter what schools are able to do.
“The pandemic sets the timeline,” a memo to the school board noted. “Decisions made will need to be flexible.”
The school district is also anticipating a large incoming kindergarten class that could create some challenges when it comes to keeping class sizes low in the elementary schools, depending on virus-related restrictions come September.
District leaders have prepared an alternate in-person scenario if state guidelines shift back to more severe restrictions, but it is not the preferred plan, Superintendent Craig Hoppes said.
“I’ll be honest, I don’t like it,” he told board members Wednesday.
Board Member Jenna Rickenbach suggested sending a letter to the state, echoing and supporting a letter sent to Gov. Kate Brown by Clatsop County commissioners in April. In the letter, the commissioners pushed for local control when it comes to making health and safety decisions.
Others on the school board questioned the need for this type of letter. Changes in restrictions are likely coming, board member Jimmy Pearson noted. But Rickenbach was encouraged to bring back a draft for the board to consider at a future meeting.
Still, Grace Laman, the school board chairwoman, said she does want to make sure some sort of plan is in place so parents can begin to make plans for summer child care. The child care situation, combined with the limited in-person instruction the schools were able to offer with different grades in class at different times, was “a nightmare this year,” she said.
However, online school done at home is the preferred route for some.
Several families have indicated they would prefer an online school option for their children — something the district plans to accommodate.
The school district will also still need to plan for a remote learning component, even for in-person students.
There were virus cases at schools this year, Hoppes said, and he expects there will be cases next school year, as well. The school district will need remote options for in-person students who need to quarantine.