Under pressure, Philomath schools prepare to open classrooms

Interim superintendent Susan Halliday acknowledged that plans to get students in the classrooms have fallen behind.

Posted: Jan 11, 2021 10:59 AM
Updated: Jan 11, 2021 11:29 AM

PHILOMATH, Ore. -- Some parents in Philomath School District 17J will soon get to send their kids back to a classroom, according to interim Superintendent Susan Halliday.

On Monday morning, for the second time in just a few days, a small group of parents rallied outside district headquarters calling for a return to in-person learning as soon as possible.

RELATED: PARENTS PLAN TO PROTEST PHILOMATH SCHOOL DISTRICT'S COVID-19 CLOSURE

The group of parents, led by Kelsey Brooks, said the district has been inconsistent with its communication. Parents received an email last week saying the district would not be going to in-person learning this week because of concerns over liability insurance and coronavirus. Now, the district says they are starting to resolve those issues and will bring back some grade levels as soon as next Tuesday.

Parents said the ever-evolving plans have been the source of confusion and frustration.

“The back and forth within just a week – we received like four emails unclear on whether we were opening or not opening. It was just kind of the last straw. It was like, ‘OK, I just want you to stick to a date. Here we are in January. It’s time to just stick to one and go with it,’” said Shannon Kaseman, a parent to two children in the district.

READ MORE: SCHOOLWATCH

Brooks said she doesn’t want to lay blame on teachers or staff who are working hard to make the transition, and she wants students to return in a safe environment. Still, she says the effects of remote learning have been detrimental on many students.

“I know that there are parents and students across the board having major, major issues with what’s being able to be conveyed to the students and what’s being observed. Kids are just falling behind on a record level,” Brooks said.

Interim superintendent Halliday acknowledged that plans to get students in the classrooms have fallen behind.

“We’re doing a lot of conversation with our local health authority, lots of conversations about changes with the vaccine schedules to see if we can get teachers vaccinated more quickly, and listening for guidance from the state department to determine when it’s safe to get our students back,” Halliday said.

Halliday explained the district had established a schedule before winter break for returning students to the classroom, but the efforts are running about a week behind schedule.

However, plans are now in place to return kindergarten through third grade students to classrooms on Jan. 19 and fourth grade through eighth grade should return Jan. 26.

Parents can still choose to have their children participate in distance learning if they wish.

“I understand that we’re split, like any district in the state in terms of those that want students back in school and those that wish we could wait. I don’t know that there’s a ‘win’ all the way around. But it’s about keeping students at the forefront that we’re after and doing our best for that,” Halliday said.

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