In a letter shared with school district staff and families dated July 30, Superintendent Curtiss Scholl announced that school will be conducted under Comprehensive Distance Learning (CDL) model for the first six weeks of the 2020-21 school year, based on health metrics in Deschutes County.

Scholl’s announcement came just two days after Governor Kate Brown’s press conference which outlined the latest state and county health guidelines that are required to allow in-person education. 

School districts throughout the state have made similar decisions and announcements since Brown’s press conference, including Bend-La Pine School District, which additionally made the decision to push its start date to September 14 in order to give staff more time to prepare for online instruction. The Redmond School District announced CDL will be implemented until November 2 at a minimum and will start two days later than originally planned. 

Sisters has not announced any plans to change its Tuesday, September 1 start date. 

The current metrics to hold classes in person require the county in which the school exists to achieve a level of 10 or fewer cases per 100,000 residents per week and five percent or fewer positive tests per week. Additionally the state must have five percent or fewer positive tests as a whole. For reference, according to the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), there were 108 cases of COVID-19 the week ending July 26. With a population of close to 200,000 for Deschutes County, this calculates to a rate of well over 50 per 100,000. Infection rates have steadily risen in the county since late June. The county was well under the metric threshold from mid-March to mid-June.

The 97759 zip code that encompasses most of Sisters Country has had a total of 12 reported cases. 

Scholl’s announcement came as a blow to students, families, and teachers alike, who spent the entire spring under a less-developed distance-learning model. Scholl emphasized, however, that the key difference for distance learning for the 2020-21 school year is that it clearly will be much more comprehensive. 

“What we required educationally in Oregon for the spring was minimal since we were in an emergency,” he said. “With the strength of our staff we believe we can do a good job for our students. If and when the metrics improve we want to make sure we have a seamless re-entry for in-person learning.”

Under the CDL model students will be graded, attendance will be recorded, and direct contact with teachers will be increased. 

There is some hope that grades K-3 could get started in person sooner than the higher grade levels because the threshold of infection rates of 30 new cases per 100,000 applies to that age group. The rationale behind this difference is that younger children reportedly not only show lower infection rates, but appear less likely to transmit the disease. 

Sisters School District received a state “Preschool Promise” grant of around $200,000 to be used starting this school year and is in the process of hiring staff, but Scholl is not certain what the safety guidelines will be for this younger age group. 

“Preschool guidelines are up in the air for now. We are waiting for more information from the State on that,” he said. “This is a very important issue for our families given that there is such a need for child care for kids, which is why we are moving ahead to be prepared to serve this age group.”

Governor Brown also announced she would release an additional $28 million under the Emergency Education Relief Fund in order to help schools cover additional costs related to access to technology, WiFi hotspots, online curriculum and teacher training. 

Scholl acknowledged that much work remains for school district employees.

“We are looking to create structures to support all of our students as well as possible,” he said. “We hope that we can provide in-person small-group opportunities, including from our counselors. It is our desire to keep our students and families as well connected as any district in Oregon.”

Detailed information regarding K-12 education issues in Oregon, including Comprehensive Distance Learning, can be found at the ODE website, www.oregon.gov/ode.