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Local students and staff are adjusting well to their new routines as 509-J schools resume onsite full time

 - Metolius Elementary second-grade student Lindsey Miller, wearing her required face mask, works on an assignment in Ronica Comingore's class.

Fabulous, exciting, happy. Those are the words Jefferson County School District 509-J Superintendent Ken Parshall uses to describe the first few weeks of students being back in class full time.

"It's been great to see students back on campus learning in person," he said, noting the excitement and happiness of staff members, students and parents.

Schools statewide had to close last March when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Oregon. As the virus continued to spread, state guidelines restricted schools from opening the new school year in-person. Locally, the district opened in September with Comprehensive Distance Learning and the CASA Online program.

Select students were allowed to attend school for Limited in Person Instruction two hours a day beginning in November.

In early January, metrics and guidelines for reopening schools became advisory rather than mandatory. COVID-19 cases began trending downward in Jefferson County by late January, and 509-J district leaders felt confident in their ability to safely open schools to in-person learning for all grade levels. Students returned to full-time in-person classes the week of Feb. 3 with safety measures in place.

Now, three weeks into their new routine, administrators say students and staff are adjusting well to the new schedule and safety procedures.

"It has been great to see the students," said Madras High School Principal Brian Crook. "They are all being respectful and following appropriate protocols so we can open and stay open. The staff is thrilled to have the students back in the building."

Approximately 79% of enrolled 509-J students are attending school in person full time, and 21% are attending remotely through the district's CASA Online program.

The district has let families know that student transportation is available, but district leaders have asked families to help the district by bringing their student to school if possible.

"If they can help us mitigate crowding on buses, we would appreciate their help," Parshall said, noting the school bus driver shortage and physical distance recommendations for school buses. "I'm really thankful for the help from families."

He said the cleaning procedures, wearing of masks and spacing requirements to keep students and staff safe at school have gone really well.

"All reports are that students are not only following the processes but doing it enthusiastically. They're very happy to be back in school," Parshall said.

District leaders are confident in the safety protocols they have put in place. They are prepared to quarantine staff members and students should they be exposed to COVID-19, but the district is prepared to mitigate risk and continue to have school onsite.

"So far, we've been able to navigate all those challenges," Parshall said. "Spread in schools would be highly unlikely because of everything we're following."

Parshall says a great big thank you to the community, district families, students and staff for exercising great patience and a dedication to getting back to an onsite option for students.

"It took lots of collaboration amongst staff and families, and we're glad to be up and rolling and learning," Parshall said.

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