After the West Linn-Wilsonville School District's plan to return students to the classroom starting Feb. 8 was announced at the board meeting Jan. 11, controversy sparked among educators and the state announced changes in its timeline for vaccine rollout.
On the heels of those developments, Superintendent Kathy Ludwig announced a recommendation to amend the reopening plan during a School Board meeting Monday, Jan. 25, pushing back the reopening date for kindergarten to Feb. 22. The board approved the amendment to the plan 4-1.
In the new timeline, kindergarten will transition to in-person learning Feb. 22, grade one will return March 1, grade two will return March 3, grade three will return March 8, grades four through six will return March 10 and secondary grades will return March 15.
Ludwig said the Feb. 22 start date is based on the assumption that the county is still meeting the K-5 health metrics at the time, or that all staff working with that group of students has had the opportunity to receive their first dose of the vaccine.
According to Ludwig, Clackamas County Public Health Officer Dr. Sarah Present said there is enough evidence to suggest the first dose of the vaccine provides substantial immunity.
Additionally, the March 10 and 15 start dates are based on the assumption that the district is able to limit transmission effectively after the first students return to classrooms.
Ludwig warned that this amendment is based on current information and guidance, and is subject to change as more information is available.
"When more members of the school community are vaccinated there is greater stability to the learning environment," Ludwig said.
She noted that even after vaccinations, there will still need to be a strict adherence to safety protocol such as face coverings, disinfecting and social distancing.
"A number of our school community will still be unvaccinated when we reopen — all of our students for example," Ludwig said.
She said that school site preparations and the hiring process for reopening have begun.
West Linn-Wilsonville Education Association President Jennifer Cerasin shared the association's position on the reopening plan at the board meeting Monday.
She said that data continues to show that COVID-19 affects communities based on race and socioeconomic status. She noted that Clackamas County's recent COVID report showed 28% of positive COVID-19 cases affect the Hispanic/Latino community even though they only represent 11% of the population. She also noted that the reopening plan puts multigenerational families at risk.
She said that the association implores the district to wait to reopen until all staff have had the opportunity to be fully inoculated and gone through the recommended waiting period for the vaccine to take full effect. The association also asked that county metrics not only be met, but show a sustained decline over multiple weeks, and that the district plan to aid in increasing vaccine access to the most vulnerable in the West Linn-Wilsonville community.
Board members asked clarifying questions on the vaccine rollout and reopening plan.
Board member Dylan Hydes disagreed with the recommended amendment.
"What has changed in the past two weeks to make us believe that the plan we agreed was safe two weeks ago is no longer safe?" he said.
He mentioned that a loved one of his works in a hospital and follows the "swiss cheese" model to protect herself from the virus. The swiss cheese model is one name for the layers of protection such as masking, social distancing and handwashing used to prevent the spread of the disease.
"She doesn't do it by refusing to go to work," he said.
Teachers have pushed back on that notion, pointing out that they have worked remotely throughout the pandemic.
He said that the plan to delay reopening by two weeks wouldn't make anyone happy. Teachers, Hydes said, don't want a two-week delay — they want the opportunity to be fully vaccinated. Similarly, there are community members who want students in school immediately.
Board Chair Regan Molatore said she supported the amended plan for the same reasons she supported the previous one.
Board member Ginger Fitch said when making tough decisions, she looked to the district's mission statement to guide her.
"I'm looking at our community and our community includes staff," she said.
She added that she wanted taxpayers to know that teachers are working right now.
"I think this is a good plan. I think this is a plan where we can return to the classroom with joy," Fitch said.
Board member Christy Thompson said she has always been a proponent for the safe return to in-person learning.
"However the feeling of goodwill in our entire school community from students to parents to teachers and staff is also important to me," she said.
Though Thompson believed it is safe for teachers to return to school without a vaccine, she acknowledged that many teachers do not feel that way.
She added that regardless of what happened at the meeting, she hoped the community would extend more grace to one another.
Board Member Chelsea King said that she believed they could safely open schools and she hoped this was the last time they had to change the plan.
"I do believe our teachers have been working, I never once thought our teachers stopped working," she said.
She said she was happy to vote for the two-week delay if it would bring certainty and make the community feel safer.
"I've gotta keep the belief that the needs of our students are bound to the needs of our teachers and that if I meet the needs of our teachers, I will meet the needs of the students," King said.
Hydes, in his closing comments, said he would vote no on the plan because he felt the needs of the students outweighed the opportunity to make some teachers feel more comfortable.
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