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Oregon students return to school amid pandemic

Superintendent characterizes return as “bittersweet”

Oregon Superintendent Tom Mahoney characterized students returning to school on Aug. 13 as “bittersweet.”

The Oregon School District was among the first in the county to have a majority of its students return to school for the fall semester amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some students opted for remote learning. Those that attend in person will have to use masks, social distance, and be screened for symptoms.

“I’m proud of them, but it’s not the experience I want them to have,” Mahoney said. “Given the options, I’m excited to see them again.”

Oregon did experience some issues with its first day of the new system. There was a problem with laptops recording videos and the district’s student information system crashed for about 20 minutes. Mahoney believes both of the problems are now fixed. 

There were no problems with the students that attended, Mahoney said. 

“Overall, I’m really pleased with how it’s gone,” Mahoney said. “Students have been fabulous following procedures and protocols. Parents prepared them. I’m proud of the community. It went as smooth as it could’ve.”

Mahoney sent a letter to families following the first day thanking them for their preparedness and participation. 24 percent of Oregon’s student population is doing remote learning. 

Parents are key for the students that will be doing online learning, Mahoney said. 

“I think it’s going to be harder for parents than kids,” Mahoney said. “Kids are adaptable and want to see their friends. Remote learners will be more of a challenge. They’re on our schedule now.”

Oregon bought a supply of masks and the state provided some. Families were still asked to provide their own, for students’ preference and comfort. 

Later in the week, the school district did experience a “breakdown in its COVID-19 protocols due to miscommunication”. The Ogle County Health Department said it was made aware of an Oregon High School student who was exposed to COVID-19 in their home.

The student was not in school that day, but the health department asked the school district to perform contact tracing for those who were or had been in contact with the student.

The protocol calls for health department to take the information and make determination of next steps. 

“Unfortunately, our protocol broke down and we reached out to the 12 close contact families, asked that they pick up their students and quarantine,” Mahoney said in an email to parents. “While this was done out of an abundance of caution, it was not the appropriate action on our part.” 

Mahoney later followed up that email with another confirming that the student’s COVID-19 test was negative.

“While I hope this is the only COVID related event this school year, I do not believe that will be the case,” Mahoney said. “If future incidents occur, we will communicate with our families in a timely fashion.”

Some school districts plan to move to longer days or full in-person learning after a few weeks this fall if things go to plan. Mahoney was hesitant to commit to a change at this time. 

“I’ve been cautious about making commitments to when a shift will occur,” Mahoney said. “We need to see how this goes for a few weeks to see if it’s working. I told my board this, we may end up doing the whole year on five hour days or just six weeks on five hour days.”

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