I am writing in response to the article “School freeze decided by executive team,” which appeared in the Nov. 20 News-Times.
I appreciate the perspective of the parents who object to the policy that will keep most Lincoln County School District students home instead of moving to a hybrid in-person/online education model. No parent, teacher, administrator or student believes that distance learning is the best model for educating our children or supporting their emotional and social development. However, given the pandemic and a number of related factors, I fully support the district’s decision to delay hybrid school attendance.
First, local COVID-19 infection rates are too high to consider moving to more in-person instruction. While case numbers appear lower in Lincoln County than elsewhere in the state, they are indeed on the rise here, and COVID is probably more prevalent in our community than it seems. The Oregon Department of Education’s guiding metric for return to in-person instruction for middle school and high school classes is less than 50 cases per 100,000 people over a two-week period. Between 50 and 100 cases per 100,000, the guidance calls for “Middle school and high school primarily comprehensive distance learning with allowable limited in-person instruction (which does not extend to the hybrid model).” At this writing, that statistic for Lincoln County stands at 73.5 cases per 100,000. It makes sense to follow the ODE guidance and keep older kids home.
Concern about infection rates has as much to do with hospital capacity as community health. If infection rates rise here, and many experts expect that they will (and they are, in fact, likely higher than publicized statistics, due to our low testing rates), our small hospitals will be easily overwhelmed. Where will those patients go? Nearby hospitals are already on the edge of overflowing, with cases on the rise. Where will non-COVID critical patients in Lincoln County go when our hospitals are full of local or regional COVID patients? We need to keep our cases low in order to maintain our hospital capacity.
Advocates for returning children to the classroom correctly point out that children need to interact with their peers. While I agree, I believe parents will be disappointed to see how extremely limited students’ interactions will be. Students will be split into cohorts by grade, and will attend school with their cohorts only. Within their cohort, they will be assigned to smaller “pods.” There is no guarantee that they will be with their friends within their cohort or pod (and it is unreasonable to expect the school district to accept requests along these lines). Further, students will have to stay 6 feet apart at all times, sitting in the same desk all day, including for lunch. The interactions among students, especially at the middle and high school levels, will be extremely limited, hardly satisfying the need for socializing. Is it worth compromising community health for this ghost of socialization?
Finally, and most importantly, the district seems to have changed their policy about the use of distance learning once the hybrid model is implemented. Parents were initially told that families desiring to keep their kids home once hybrid began would have the choice of continuing distance learning or using the sanctioned Edmentum online learning program. Now we are told that students that stay home will only be allowed to use Edmentum. By many accounts (teachers, students, parents), Edmentum is inadequate, and hardly as effective as distance learning. Edmentum students have no contact with LCSD teachers and certainly no interaction with other students. Many issues would disappear if comprehensive distance learning was still an option for families that have concerns about sending their kids to school.
We all want our kids back in school. But during the holiday season and just after our new two-week state “freeze” is definitely not the time. Let’s all listen to the public health and epidemiology experts and wear our masks, wash our hands and keep our distance for now so we can beat this terrible virus and perhaps get back to in-person learning safely in the spring.
Nancy Steinberg is the parent of a high school student and lives in Newport.