Board mulls return to schools in February

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

Lebanon School District board members, at their Jan. 14 meeting, discussed the possibility of reopening schools by mid-February, starting with the youngest age-group students.
However, solid plans cannot really be defined until an expected update from Gov. Kate Brown on Tuesday, Jan. 19.
Also, vaccines may become available for teachers and educational staff in Linn County by the end of the month, followed by a second dose a couple weeks later, but Superintendent Bo Yates is not optimistic the state will be able to provide enough vaccines by that time frame, he said.
Yates reminded the board that school districts are required to follow the governor’s mandates, and follow health and safety protocols and metrics for what type of instruction is allowable. The ability to open for in-person learning will depend upon county, size of county, metrics in county, size of school, safe harbor provisions and resources available.
In late December, the governor put forth stipulations for the return of students to school, and ostensibly gave control of the schools back to the districts. She advised, rather than mandated, however, that all school districts follow the guidelines set forth by the state.
Board Chair Tom Oliver pointed out that the school district will not have the liability protections offered by the state if Lebanon does not follow the advisory mandatory guidance.
COVID metric updates should be available from the state on Jan. 19, when Brown is expected to give further updates on Ready School Safe Learning data.
“Right now we’re kinda in no-man’s land,” Yates said. “If you do not follow the updated metrics, you will not be covered with insurance. So we need some update from the governor on what’s gonna happen and how we’re going to do things. Either the governor is going to give us more stipulations and guidance, or she’s going to reduce restrictions and allow us more leeway in how we do things. Regardless, we have to have some level of protection.”
Looking at schools across the country, they’ve been able to run as long as they follow strong guidance, and follow process and procedure, he noted.
“One thing we do know when schools follow required health and safety protocols, there’s a low risk of transmission and illness when students resume in-person instruction,” Yates said. “The majority of the infection has been due to staff, not necessarily students, bringing that and transmitted it to their peers.”
Oregon Department of Education and Oregon Health Authority officials have reported that students are less likely to transmit the COVID virus, he said.
Students might have to be tested weekly to ensure the district can remain open, he noted.
The governor has targeted Jan. 23 for teacher access to a vaccine. Linn County Health will have a clinic in Albany for those in the 1A group this month, followed by those in the 1B group, Yates said. Teachers fall somewhere between 1A and 1B.
Yates would like to wait until Jan. 19 to give more consideration into a target reopening date could be for the Lebanon School District, he said.
“I do not want us to have parents plan on something and then turn around and have to tell them, ‘No, that’s not what we’re gonna do,” Yates said. “So I’m asking for a little patience till we get to next Tuesday evening so we can actually disseminate what we’re being asked to do, and then be able to provide our staff and community a plan based off what those new metrics and what the new advisory is within 48 hours of the governor’s update.”
The board received eight comments from the public encouraging them to find a way to get the students back in school, Oliver reported. More than 80 percent of families who responded to a district survey have indicated they want their kids back in school and are willing to do so as soon as doors open.
Yates said that once the schools reopen, they can stay open as long as there are no outbreaks within the school, regardless of whether the county metrics increase again.
Board member Mike Martin voiced concern about the loss of education to the children in a current system that “is not working at all,” and questioned the fail rates the district will experience.
Member Todd Gestrin questioned liability protection and the possibility about students and staff who may choose not to physically return to school.
Yates responded, “We don’t really have the ability to function operationally by letting people decide whether they want to come back or not. So whether you wanted to come back in or not, if we’re going to operate as a school district, I’m going to need you in your classroom, whether you want to be there or not.”
However, high-risk candidates have been selected to continue distance learning, he said.
Martin and board member Tammy Schilling pressed for getting students back in school as soon as possible.
Member Richard Borden said that for him it’s not so much about a matter of liability than it is the risk of putting staff in a position to contract COVID.
“I think we just need to consider the value of the human life here against the the teaching of our kids,” Borden said.
Business Director William Lewis and Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Meckley were also present at the meeting.

LHS construction students hoist a wall for a duplex they built last year. The School Board has approved a $527,500 sale of the building.
File photo

In other business, board members:
♦ Discussed a proposition by the superintendent to move all in-town sixth grade classes to Seven Oak Middle School, and utilize the extra classroom space in the elementary schools for preschool classes.
♦ Agreed in principle with a Lebanon Booster Club’s request to rename the Lebanon Community Pool the Jan Nadig Pool. A formal hearing will be held later.
In a request letter, Booster Club members said Nadig was known as the “pool lady,” with an “incredibly kind and thoughtful personality.”
She was hired as assistant supervisor of Lebanon Community Services in 1975, specifically overseeing the pool. She was hired as Aquatic Coordinator in 1980, and became head swim coach for the high school from 1986 to 1996.
During her 20-year tenure serving at the pool, Nadig developed a program allowing third-graders to receive free swim lessons, and installed a lift allowing people with physical challenges to access the pool.
Among many of her services, she was instrumental in getting the warm pool installed, developing swimming and water therapy classes for adults, and advocating for affordable pool access prices. Nadig also taught classes for the high school, including Advanced Lifesaving and Adaptive Aquatics.
Nadig resigned from the pool in 1996 in order to teach PE and health at the high school, but kept her roots at the pool by serving on the Lebanon Aquatic District board.
“Jan Nadig has touched so many lives through teaching kids and adults to swim, teaching teenagers to be lifeguards, inviting the community in to use the pool in a variety of ways, and just loving the people of our community,” the Booster Club wrote.
A time for public comment will be made available regarding the request for name change.
♦ Approved the sale of a duplex built on 2nd Street by the high school construction class. An offer has been made to purchase the duplex for $527,500. Lewis said the sale will net approximately $250,000 in profit.
♦ Approved the 2021-22 budget committee calendar;
♦ Approved the 2021-23 LBL ESD local service plan;
♦ Approved policy updates for the school counseling program, graduation exercises, equal education opportunity, threats of violence, federal and state family medical leave, All Students Belong, and bias incident complaint procedure.