A student goes through the check-in process with staff before being dropped off at Sisters Elementary School Monday morning. photo by Charlie Kanzig
A student goes through the check-in process with staff before being dropped off at Sisters Elementary School Monday morning. photo by Charlie Kanzig
For the first time since mid-March students in kindergarten through third grade will return to Sisters Elementary School (SES) for in-class instruction, thanks to a consistent drop in COVID-19 cases in Deschutes County.

The statistical metric of fewer than 30 cases per 100,000 has held for over three consecutive weeks, allowing the return of the youngest members of the Sisters School District to move from “Comprehensive Distance Learning” to “Hybrid Learning.” (Cases did jump again late last week).

Students will attend classes in person Monday through Thursday and continue to take part in Comprehensive Distance Learning on Fridays.

Getting students back into the school building requires a comprehensive plan to meet health and safety standards, according to Superintendent Curt Scholl.

“We are excited to get to see our K-3 students for in-person instruction,” he said. “Our elementary staff has done a great job preparing so we can safely educate our K-3 students. We continue to advocate for our entire community to wear their masks, physically distance, and wash their hands so our metrics will improve enough that we can reopen for all of our students by next month.”

To make the transition more manageable for staff, students, and parents, re-entry for second and third grades began Monday September 28, with kindergarten and first grade to follow the next day.

Protocols for keeping social distancing require limiting cohorts and employing staggered drop-off, starting times, and pick-up times for different grade levels, which will take some getting used to for everyone, according to Principal Joan Warburg.

“For example, the parking lot has been modified to help with the smooth process of parents dropping students off and picking them up,” she said. “All parents have been provided instructions of times and procedures and staff will be available to help everyone adapt to the new routines.”

Though the requirements to check kids into school, including a visual screening, will take extra time, being able to have all students back in the classrooms is worth all the effort in Warburg’s mind.

“It is with great joy that we have met metrics in Deschutes County for K-3rd graders to return to in-person learning,” she said. “Our teachers and other staff have worked tirelessly to get things ready to safely welcome our students back for the first time in months.”

According to Warburg, requirements include that students will wear face coverings, classrooms have been set up to allow for required space between desks, routines established for using the restroom, rules put in place for conducting recess, and plans laid out to keep surfaces sanitized, among others.

“The first few days of school will be filled with everyone (parents, staff, and students) learning new routines for school and we appreciate the patience and grace that our parents have shown us as we navigate this new reality,” she said.

Warburg acknowledged the effort put in place — along with the excitement — surrounding getting students back into the school.

“Reopening school under COVID wouldn’t be possible without the incredible amount of sacrificial work from every member of our SES team, along with all the support team members in the district including those in the maintenance, transportation, and nutrition departments,” she said. “We believe that the best learning environment for our students is in person, and we have been working with the Oregon Department of Education and the Department of County Human Services to be able to open. Our building is ready and our staff is eager to welcome our students back to in-person learning,” she said.

She added, “We appreciate the support of our community and take our responsibility seriously. We have considered every detail to ensure the mental and physical health and safety of all of our students.”

When infection rates get down to 10 per 100,000 in Deschutes County for three consecutive weeks, grades 4-12 will be allowed to return to in-class learning. The earliest that could take place is October 19.

The complete school reopening blueprint is available on the Sisters School District website.