North Santiam School District
Message from Superintendent Gardner
October 25, 2021
As we close in on the end of our second month of school, we want to update you on the current challenges we face. Remember that our primary goal this year is to conduct in-person school for the entire school year. COVID cases have dropped slightly in our communities, and we see that as well in our school case data. We want to thank all of you for helping us to mitigate in-school spread, and we ask again for your continued resilience as we enter the colder and wetter season ahead. The goal remains the same: keep kids in our schools.
The greatest challenge we face is our shortage of substitutes at all positions. Staff cannot report to work with any COVID-like symptoms, which is creating a higher absence rate than a typical year. In addition, some staff have been required to quarantine due to COVID in their own families. Increased absences and decreased available substitutes has created a dire shortage across the state. This shortage goes beyond our teachers, as all classified positions (Ed Assistants, Food Service, etc.) also need people who can fill in. While we have not been impacted significantly by the vaccine requirement, the fact is we have several positions open as well as positions every day unfilled with substitutes. If you as a parent are willing to engage in some substitute work, perhaps only in your children’s school, we encourage you to reach out to your Principal and let them know. The more depth we have, the more likely we can continue to run without disruption.
In this District, we see exposures within a family unit as causing a high level of spread. We emphasize that parents who have positive cases in their homes should keep children isolated. While it has not occurred regularly, the few cases of in-school spread were traced to students who brought COVID to school from family exposures.
School districts across the state have been successful in limiting in-school spread, in large part, due to masks and social distancing. Superintendents are pushing for our state’s policies to reflect this outcome. Colt Gill, Oregon’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, is working with OHA currently to create the same quarantine policies in all counties as well as implement a “test-to-stay” policy for students. Here is an article from OPB that details the challenges the ODE and the OHA are working through:
Finally, it is important to understand that the District, as we provide in-person school, is necessarily making compromises so that kids can have the fullest experience possible. We will have kids in masks during the school day, and will spread them out as much as possible—yet we also are traveling to other communities to play sports, and we had a Homecoming Dance. Some parents expressed concern about us having the dance, while others expressed frustration that it was held but with some limitations for safety. Where we can, we will make compromises for the kids to have a better experience. The goal is to have our students in in-person school. If you see an inconsistency, we acknowledge that it is almost certainly true. To achieve such a consistency, we would have to go to no protections at all or a system without any sports or student activities in any building. We will take some risks for students to perform and compete.
The District is in the process of completing a Systemic Equity Assessment. This work was begun in the fall of 2020, and is funded by the Student Investment Account, which requires the District to look at the educational outcomes of its sub-groups. In a larger sense, this is a continuation of the NSSD’s efforts since approximately 2006 to improve outcomes for our minority and Special Education students after the passing of the No Child Left Behind act of 2002. The fund is separate from our General Fund, and generates approximately $1.5 million per year. It is important for parents to understand that all school districts in Oregon will be focusing on equitable outcomes in order to utilize these funds. This fund also has allowed the District to bring on more counselors and behavior specialists, as well as update our curriculum.
The meetings of the last two weeks have been focus groups as the Equity Collaborative gathers information for this report. These meetings had been scheduled for last winter, but were unsuccessful due to COVID restrictions. These sessions have concluded, and we anticipate a final report in the coming weeks. When the District receives the report, this will be made available to the public. We encourage those parents who might be concerned about the contents or recommendations to wait to see the final report itself.
As we move forward, we continue to ask for every family’s help to provide the best opportunities we can for your kids. COVID and its variants will not disappear, and an easy or convenient outcome to the pandemic is beyond reach. Our goal remains to provide in-person school for all kids, with as many activities and athletics as we can safely provide. We appreciate your efforts, we know it is difficult, but we also know that in the coming months we will continue to make progress against this virus.
October 25, 2021
NSSD Weekly COVID Report
To view the data on the District website, click on the dashboard photo
It is possible for the notification to the District to occur in the week after the positive case was in school. Also, some exposures occur on the bus so the positive case may attend a different school than the student who is put into quarantine.
Optional Weekly COVID Screening
>>>Reminder- test samples are due at school drop boxes by noon every Tuesday. Please include your student's full name and date of birth instead of initials as previously indicated. Additional testing kits are available in school offices<<<
The District has opted into the free, optional screening program offered to all Oregon K-12 students by the Oregon Health Authority. This is a weekly saliva at-home COVID screening test that parents can opt into. Participation in the program and all results are confidential, however, positive COVID-19 results must be reported to the local public health authority for case investigation and contact tracing. Parents can find more info and the consent form on the District Website or by emailing Santiam Hospital at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note this is only a screening program. Parents who wish to test their child as the result of contact tracing or an onset of symptoms will need to contact their health care provider. As more testing sites become available locally, we will send more information.
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Should they go or should they stay?
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Contact Tracing/Quarantine Information
Notification of Need to Quarantine
The Marion County Health Department has provided strict guidelines for schools to follow to determine if any individuals are considered a "close contact" to a positive case and whether or not quarantines are warranted. District nurses work closely with the Marion Co. Health Dept. when reviewing each case for potential exposure. If quarantines are deemed necessary, notifications are then sent through the District’s messenger service which provides an automated phone call, email and text message to parents/guardians. District nurses are available for follow-up questions or concerns at the phone numbers and email addresses provided.
Classroom Setting Contact Tracing
The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and Oregon Dept. of Education (ODE) have accepted the recommendations from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to create an exception to the 6 feet distancing guidance for K-12 settings (for students only). A student who is within 3 to 6 feet of someone with COVID but both were engaged in consistent and correct use of well-fitting masks is not considered "exposed" and therefore not generally subject to quarantine. In classroom settings, non-vaccinated students that are less than 3 feet for more than 15 minutes of a positive case must quarantine. Fully vaccinated students generally only need to monitor for symptoms and do not need to quarantine (unless they develop symptoms).
Lunch Contact Tracing
Since students who are eating cannot "engage in consistent use of masks", the exception indicated above cannot be applied during meal service. This causes the distancing guidance for contact tracing to reset back to six feet. The reality is most schools, NSSD included, do not have the space, time or staff available to seat students at this distance, so there is an acknowledged increased chance during meal service that students may be exposed and therefore, quarantined. We will continue to evaluate our processes in order to mitigate quarantines as much as is safely and feasibly possible.
Bus Contact Tracing
Current guidance from OHA and ODE does not allow for the aforementioned 3 feet social distancing exception to be applied to students on school buses. This requires that all students within a 6 foot radius of a positive case on a bus be subject to quarantine, unless fully vaccinated. Why are buses different than classrooms? Bus settings are not considered as controlled as classrooms since the only adult present is driving and cannot consistently make sure all kids have their masks on properly and that they don't change seats.