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Crook County students fortunate online learning was short-lived; other Oregon districts not so lucky

CENTRAL OREGONIAN FILE PHOTO - Jason Chaney, Managing EditorCrook County School District, like many others throughout the state, is moving forward sans mask requirement for the first time in nearly two years. For the first time since early March 2020, students and staff are allowed to enter the school buildings for a full day of school with their full faces on display.

It's a watershed moment to be sure and it seems fitting that it coincides with publication of a story that chronicles what kind of impact the pandemic and its associated health regulations have had on schools across the state. "Students Under Stress," the first of a planned three-part series, can be found in this edition and it offers a sobering look at how the interruption of traditional classroom learning can affect a variety of things from student behavior to mental health and more.

Accounts from communities throughout the Portland Metro area, where distance learning stretched from the spring 2020 to fall 2021, are not pretty – students struggling with the socialization skills needed for in-person learning, inappropriate behavior, fights, greater risk for self-harm and more. It reinforces what Crook County School District leaders have been preaching since the pandemic began – in-person learning is the best option when it is safe to do it.

Local students only lost the spring of 2020 to distance learning exclusively. The next school year, some students returned to full-time in-person education while other students experienced a mix of distance learning and classroom education before all students went full time for good in January 2021. Crook County was the first district in the state to make that transition.

And instead of reporting struggles, the schools have encountered positive results that other school districts have lacked, including graduation rates that are the best in the Central Oregon region and well above the state average.

This doesn't mean there weren't hiccups. Because the school district had to hastily develop a distance learning program in spring 2020, online learning wasn't as effective as it was by fall when educators had an entire summer to fine tune it. And when kids came back to in-person education last school year amid a pandemic, there was an adjustment period, particularly at the elementary school level where kids had to follow strict hygiene and social distancing protocols.

But avoiding the prolonged absence of student-teacher interaction certainly helped and that became evident not only in comments from students and teachers last school year but in more quantifiable metrics like local graduation rates.

Not everyone has been as fortunate and that is why the "Students Under Stress" story is important to share, to remind people how many students and educators have struggled and to reinforce how well your local school district navigated such unprecedented times.

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