ALSEA, Ore. -- Elementary students are in the middle of their second week of in-person learning in the Alsea School District, and so far no cases of coronavirus have been identified.
The Alsea School District operates a single K-12 charter school with about 220 students enrolled from communities ranging from Junction City to Corvallis and Waldport.
Under state guidelines, rural districts like Alsea can reopen in-person when various state, county and district metrics are met. Alsea School District met those requirements and has begun classroom learning for K-5 students. Middle school students will begin next week, with high school students beginning soon after.
Online options are also available.
"Schools can open safely as long as you maintain the focus on keeping each other safe," said Superintendent Marc Thielman. "And I think we managed to do that here to a significant degree. We're very much hoping it works, and we are very aware of the seriousness of the situation."
According to Thielman, the district has spent countless hours and more than $200,000 on coronavirus precautions, including fogging machines, UV lights, plexiglass and other sanitary equipment.
Students are screened and temperature checked before they get on the bus and when they arrive at school. Once they arrive in their classrooms, they will largely stay there all day, as lunch and various teachers come to them. Students wear masks and desks are distanced from each other. Visits to the bathroom are also logged, among numerous other precautionary measures.
"We try to limit how much their interactions are in other areas of the school," said assistant principal and math teacher Tim France. "It's a plan that's always evolving. So you try to have a good plan, you want to have a good plan, but you always find ways to make it better."
The district reports that elementary students are largely following the rules, and administrators check classrooms twice daily for compliance.
Meanwhile, teachers are provided with sanitary and personal protective equipment. More precautions are available based on the staff member's comfort and risk level.
"As a staff member, there's new things we need to go over and learn and be prepared for. Usually, as an educator I say that you are a lifelong learner. That's very evident right now," said France.
According to Thielman, the difference between districts nationwide that have tried and failed at in-person education and Alsea is the culture of the community and students.
He said that staff worked all summer to assist families however they could and provide reliable information about school reopening despite shifting guidance from the state.
Thielman believes that the trust of the community has led students and families to understand the individual responsibility required to make in-person learning possible.
"Just seeing the kids on day one, there was unanticipated joy in their faces, beaming through their masks," Thielman said.