Kindergartners and first graders will be the first students in Seaside to return to in-person classes this month.
With a dip in positive coronavirus case numbers, the school district saw an opportunity to return students to limited in-person classes for as long as transmission numbers do not exceed 350 per 100,000 of Clatsop County’s population.
The return to classes, slated for Feb. 16, is accompanied by the vaccination of teachers and staff members, which began in late January, Superintendent Susan Penrod said in her reopening plan report at a special meeting of the board on Monday. Next week, the entire staff is anticipated to have received their first dose of the vaccine, Penrod said.
According to the Pacific Ridge Elementary hybrid plan, two cohorts are needed to maintain the required 35 square feet for each person in the classroom. Morning and afternoon cohorts are designed so all elementary students will be on-site for three hours on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
“Our goal is to provide a safe learning environment for our students and staff while also providing consistency throughout the week and as much face-to-face time with their teacher as possible,” Pacific Ridge Elementary principal Juliann Wozniak said.
Second- and third-grade cohorts are set to begin the week of March 1 and fourth and fifth graders could return to in-person classes March 15. Students enrolled in comprehensive distance learning may continue to do so.
Sixth grade students could return to the middle school for in-person instruction on Feb. 22, with seventh and eighth graders set to begin March 1.
March 16, the first day of the third trimester, will be the first day of school for high school students.
In-person classes will require mandatory wearing of masks, a daily physical screening and completion of a self-screening form, strict seating charts and on-site virus testing if required by state metrics.
Gyms and indoor athletic facilities may be opened with some constraints, including masks and physical distancing, Seaside High School principal Jeff Roberts said. With enclosed space of 500 square feet, four separate groups may be on-site at any one time, limited to six student athletes and a coach for a 45-minute timeline for those sessions.
A screening process will be required.
“We have to be partners,” Roberts said. “We cannot be irresponsible in our own behaviors to jeopardize what we are all trying desperately to work for. To prevent the spread of this virus, to not only get your kids but keep your kids in school safely has to be a community effort.”
Starting Monday, the district will offer any student interested in any activity to sign up with coaches to participate.
First grade teacher Tracey Wright sought a delay of in-person classes until all staff have received access to the second vaccine, which, she said, is unlikely to occur until March 8.
John Edwards, whose wife is a teacher, expressed concern of the risk of COVID-19 and of discomfort among staff members. “My family has been impacted by this pretty severely, death, severe illness,” he said. “I’m more worried about the general community, the relationship between the staff, the students and the school board.”
An emotional plea from sophomore Abby Nofield urged a return to in-person classes.
“I’m 16,” Nofield said. “I miss my teachers. I miss my friends. It is so hard to see community members who do not have the best interest in the students. I’m missing out on a high school education.
“I am missing out on the opportunity to stay in a classroom and learn,” she continued. “This year has been so difficult for so many teachers, so many students. But my education is being jeopardized.”
School board members voted unanimously to approve the district’s reopening plans, both for in-person learning and athletic participation.
“I get that teachers are dedicated,” board member Lori Lum Toyooka said. “I feel like we need to get a little outside of our comfort zone and get the kids back to school. It’s been 11 months. The great thing is, kids are adaptable. It’s time to get back to the classrooms as proposed.”