North Santiam School District
September 1, 2021
Message from Supt Gardner regarding 2021-22 School Year
Dear NSSD Families:
I hope this communication finds you well and looking forward to the first day of school on Tuesday, September 7th, with high school upperclassmen beginning on September 8th. This week has been one of preparation, and our staff members are truly excited to get the year started in person.
This year, in addition to the current COVID surge, we face several daunting challenges. First and foremost is our ability to have adequate staffing to run our schools. It is our intent to continue to hold school in person as long as we can do so, but we ask that all families do what they can to help us limit viral spread as much as possible. Currently the NSSD has eleven staff members who have tested positive, and while this will not impact our ability to have school at this point, we are monitoring our ability to find enough substitutes to operate. Our complete focus is on having enough staff on hand for schools to function; if we do face a staff shortage in a building, a break may be required until staff are able to return. We ask all parents to help us avoid shutdowns due to spread by supporting your children in following health and safety guidelines.
Should we see case numbers rise in a school, the District will work with Marion County Health to determine the extent of spread and our response. We will orient towards shutting a classroom or specific school down for a short period rather than closing the entire District. The District has no plan to move to distance learning for an extended period of time. If a break is deemed necessary due to spread or shortage of staff, we would plan to return to in-person as soon as we can safely do so.
COVID Testing for Students
The District has opted in to the free screening program offered to all Oregon K-12 students by the Oregon Health Authority. This is an optional weekly saliva at-home COVID screening test that parents can choose to sign their students up for. 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 sign up at school open houses or by emailing Santiam Hospital at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Outdoor Mask Requirement Update
The State recently announced a mask requirement for outdoor events. This announcement does not apply to students during the school day, so students at PE, recess and lunches (when students are outside) may still be without a mask. Should this change, we will communicate to all families. The masking requirement does apply to spectators at outdoor sports events where six feet spacing isn't possible such as in stadium stands.
Students without Masks
Many of our families and students have been troubled recently about statewide requirements, in particular the requirement that masks be worn indoors during the school day. In the August 17, 2021 update to the Ready Schools, Safe Learners Guidance, it is stated “Schools cannot serve a student in-person if they or their family choose not to wear a face covering. Schools may offer a remote or online school option for the student.” With this in mind, students who come to school without masks will be offered one to wear (properly) and welcomed to join their fellow students in their classroom. If they choose not to wear a mask they will be sent to a separate area, away from masked students. Parents will be notified and asked to pick them up or authorize them to walk or drive home. If the student remains at school, they will be supervised by staff and given paper packets to work on and provided with meals and breaks.
Our main focus is to have in-person school, and we ask that all families engage in actions that help us accomplish this by diminishing viral spread as much as possible. A student who refuses to wear a mask will accomplish only the loss of a staff member from a reading room (to supervise them) which impacts the learning of multiple other students through the course of a day who are adhering to the mask mandate. Designating staff for this purpose is not a long-term solution so we must ask parents to consider a homeschooling option if their student has no intention of wearing a mask. The District has established a school (Options Academy) which provides an online, independent learning platform but if this is not desirable, parents may also choose to provide the instruction themselves.
Several parents have inquired about 504 plans for their children in order to obtain a mask exemption. Students seeking a mask exemption will need to be evaluated and found eligible for IDEA or Section 504 to be entitled to reasonable accommodation. For clarity, IDEA is a federal law that governs all special education services and Section 504 is a civil rights statute that requires that schools not discriminate against students with handicaps or disabilities. If a child is not eligible for IDEA or Section 504, or otherwise protected under the ADA, they are not entitled to, and cannot be granted, an accommodation for face covering requirements. A values-based belief regarding the use of face coverings is not sufficient reason to grant an accommodation from the face covering requirement. If a student does not currently have a 504 plan but has a documented disability or condition that could possibly need an accommodation, we ask that parents see their medical provider first, then contact their school principal to begin the 504 process.
Each 504 plan is developed with a school team, based on the need for accommodation for that particular student. The 504 team, which includes staff, the building administrator and the parent, would then build an individualized plan that meets the student’s needs while still meeting adequate levels of safety for all students. Some parents have expressed concern about their student receiving a permanent label as the result of having a 504 plan developed. We want to make clear that each student’s school records cannot be released in future years to an employer or other entity. A parent’s first step in this process is meeting with their health care provider.
Mid-Columbia Bus Co. (Mid-Co) is currently developing routes. Students who live within 1 mile of an elementary school or 1½ miles of middle and high schools will not be included in routes. It is possible that some students who live within these perimeters or who are attending school on a transfer have been accessing bus transportation pre-COVID but may no longer be able to do so due to COVID-related diminished seating capacity. We will seek to make accommodations when possible and ask that parents complete the online bus registration form available on the District website help facilitate requests. Masks are required on all buses at all times by Federal Mandate.
The District made after school care available in 2019-20 through a partnership with the Salem-Keizer Education Foundation prior to the shutdown. Sadly, that entity has dissolved permanently. The District is currently working with the Salem YMCA to get another program going, but this will take some time, including the challenge of finding staff. The District will communicate more in the coming weeks and give families the chance to plan.
As we begin the year, I ask all of our families and staff to face the task that we have before us with resolve and commitment. Our common success will be in keeping our schools open. The virus is our common challenge; it is relentless and will work constantly to find openings to spread. We can offer no guarantees, but we know that right now keeping our schools open is up to us, the people in our local communities.
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