|Welches Schools reopen posted on 03/01/2021|
On Thursday, Feb. 18, Debbie Ortiz dropped her five-year-old
son, James, off at Welches Schools for his first day of in-person kindergarten.
She described the process that she and her husband went through to make the
decision for James to go as “a struggle,” following the months of virtual
learning due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We sat down and talked it over. We went through all the
information the school sent us; it helped,” Debbie said. “The first day after I
dropped him off, I went back to my vehicle and I cried. I hope I did the right
“Everything seems to be going really well so far,” she
That Thursday marked the return of kindergarteners and first
graders to Welches Schools, with Principal Kendra Payne noting approximately 70
percent of students opting in for the hybrid model, while the remainder will
continue with virtual distance learning. Each student is part of a “cohort,” a
small group that attends school in person on either Monday/Thursday or
Tuesday/Friday, while attending virtually on the other days.
Payne said the early returns of the hybrid schedule are
going “really well.”
“I just feel like our kiddos have needed this and we’ve
needed it as educators, as well,” Payne said. “I really surprised myself at how
emotional I got when those first kids came in and realized how much I had
relied on them and how much their absence in the building has really just
affected our own mission and our passion. It’s been just really positive.”
The return to school is based on the county’s metrics for
coronavirus case rates, case counts and positive tests. Payne noted that
subsequent grades are expected to return in phases, depending on if the metrics
allow: second and third graders returned Thursday, Feb. 25, while fourth and
fifth graders are expected to return on Thursday, March 4 and sixth, seventh
and eighth graders on Thursday, March 11.
“At this point I feel like we’re going to be pretty well on
track with that timeline,” Payne said.
Numerous protocols are in place due to the pandemic, including
required face coverings for students, staff and visitors, six feet of physical
distancing between people (including proper spacing for desks and tables),
visual screenings for symptoms, sanitizing classrooms and frequent touchpoints
and more. Students will not eat breakfast or lunch at the school, but will
receive a meal pack as they exit for home (teachers may include snack breaks
and will share more information on this with families).
Payne noted that it was a challenge to address the required
components for reopening and addressing all the logistics that go into a
typical school day, from paths of travel in the hallways and the use of
bathrooms, to how to use exits/entrances and the way in which arrivals and
dismissals will take place.
“We’ve just really had to kind of think about all of it a
little bit differently and just be willing to change our processes,” she said.
One updated change will be a drive-through loop for parents
to pick up their children after school. Vehicles will enter from Salmon River
Road, travel to the basketball court (between the elementary and middle school
buildings), use a number system associated with all the children in the family
to pick them up and then exit via Woodsey Way.
“That was actually inspired by the PGE support stations that
were set up during the fires,” Payne said, referencing the wildfires that
impacted the area in September 2020.
Even with all the protocols in place, the district is also
preparing for a possible positive test at the school, including following state
and county guidelines such as isolation, parent notification,
cleaning/disinfecting and contact tracing. Oregon Trail School District
Communications Director Julia Monteith noted that even if a test were to come
back positive, that might not mean the school would cease in-person
“It would be more probable that if there was an exposure
within a cohort, that cohort might need to quarantine for a couple weeks, but
not necessarily both cohorts,” Monteith said, adding that the metrics in
Clackamas County are “really good right now.”
Monteith also noted that the district’s schools could stay
open even if the county’s metrics rose, as long as the school’s metrics were
under control, while also offering COVID testing.
Meanwhile, James appreciates being back at school “because
of my friends,” although his mom reported one aspect about the return that he’d
like to see some improvement on.
“The only thing he said the first day is, ‘We can’t go play
on the swings and stuff,’” Debbie said.
For more information about OTSD’s hybrid learning and the
return to school visit www.oregontrailschools.com.
By Garth Guibord/MT