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High school, middle school to retain later starts, graduation plans in the works

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - The high school and middle school to retain later starts, while 2021 graduation plans are in the works.

Later middle and high school start times are going to stick beyond the pandemic, and students at all levels will transition to a trimester schedule next school year.

To keep schools open during the COVID-19 pandemic and follow health guidelines, Crook County High School and Crook County Middle School moved their start times to the 9 a.m. hour. High School Principal Michelle Jonas said the change enabled the schools to stagger bus rides between the elementary students and the middle and high school students and reduce the number of riders. In addition, the later schedules made it easier to keep students in cohorts throughout the school day and keep class sizes smaller.

The start times have worked well for students, staff and parents alike, so the two schools are going to stick with them in subsequent school years, even after the pandemic ends. The high school will start its school day at 9 a.m. next school year and end at 3:45 p.m., which is similar to the 9:20 a.m. to 3:40 p.m. schedule utilized this year. Meanwhile, the middle school, which starts at 9:30 a.m. and ends at 3:25 p.m., will adopt a similar schedule – the exact start and end times have not yet been announced.

In addition to the busing and class size benefits, Jonas said the schedule will enable all the high school staff to conduct prep work during the 8 a.m. hour.

"What that does is everyone is teaching throughout the day, so it spreads kids throughout the building and makes our class sizes smaller," she said. "It also gives the teachers the time to prepare together." The other big change is that all district schools will transition from a semester schedule to trimesters. The impact to students outside the high school level is expected to be minimal – Sloper points out that middle school students do not change core classes as much as the high school.

But at CCHS, it is expected to add more flexibility regarding electives. With classes changing three times a year, students will have more opportunities to change electives throughout the school year.

Amidst plans for next school year, middle school and high school leaders are working on plans for their respective graduation ceremonies. Last year, the middle school held a virtual event, while the high school added a parade for the senior class and livestreamed a drive-up graduation ceremony on school grounds.

At this point, no plans are finalized, but the middle school is willing to go with an in-person ceremony if COVID restrictions make it feasible.

"If we can gather hundreds of people, we will definitely have an in-person ceremony," Sloper said. "If not, we'll pursue a virtual option like last year. We'll be prepared to celebrate our students either way."

Meanwhile, high school seniors and their parents have been surveyed to find out what they would prefer in a graduation celebration. They were given the options of having a parade again, having a traditional event or a virtual one, or celebrating with some combination of those choices. The high school is still collecting the survey data.

If seniors and their families prefer an in-person event, as many as 800 people could be allowed in the Ward Rhoden Stadium grandstands, depending on what COVID risk level the county is under at that time.

"We could also utilize some field space (to increase attendance)," Jonas added.

But since the risk levels and health guidelines change frequently, high school leaders would work with Crook County Health Department to wait as long as possible to determine maximum audience size. Once that number is known, school leaders would quickly act.

"We would be printing out tickets to give to students, based on capacity," Jonas said.


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