Redmond schools cancel limited in-person classes until January due to COVID-19 cases

The last vestige of in-person learning for students in the Redmond School District was canceled until 2021, due to rising COVID-19 cases in Deschutes County, including some within Redmond schools.

Charan Cline, Redmond schools superintendent, informed parents with a late Monday afternoon email that limited in-person instruction would be paused, starting Wednesday, for the rest of the calendar year.

This was not a decision district leaders wanted to make, but it was a necessary one, he said.

“We felt like it was the right time to limit in-person instruction, for the safety of our students and staff members,” Cline told The Bulletin Tuesday. “The cases are now getting out of hand.”

Limited in-person instruction is a state-approved exemption to online distance learning. Groups of students no larger than 20 can attend in-person class for two hours or less per day, and it’s intended for classes that can’t be easily replicated online, such as career and technical education, or for students struggling academically.

COVID-19 case counts have skyrocketed in Deschutes County in the past couple months. State metrics require full-time in-person learning to shut down when a county reaches 200 cases per 100,000 residents. As of Monday’s most recent data drop, Deschutes County is at 472 cases per 100,000 residents, according to the Oregon Health Authority.

COVID-19 isn’t just limited to outside school doors, either. As of Tuesday, there are 19 active cases among Redmond students or staff, Cline said. There are 91 Redmond students and staffers in quarantine due to COVID-19 as of Tuesday, he added.

The district has had to cancel some limited in-person classes recently because the teachers were in quarantine, Cline said.

“Most of the transmission doesn’t happen in school,” Cline said. “But having people with the cases impacts the entire operation.”

From Wednesday through Dec. 18, the last day of school before winter break, the district will attempt to replicate limited in-person instruction with online, small groups using video-chat. But Cline admitted it isn’t a perfect substitute, particularly with more hands-on classes.

“We’ll do the best we can do,” he said.

The district hopes to restart limited in-person classes when school returns after the break on Jan. 4, 2021. But that will depend on how high the case counts are, which itself depends on whether people follow COVID-19 precautions this holiday season, Cline said.

“This is entirely related to everyone’s behavior,” he said. “If people can mask up and socially distance, those numbers will go down. If not, those numbers will go up.”

Deschutes County Health Services staff advised Cline before his announcement that the safest place for students and staff is at home, said county health spokesperson Morgan Emerson.Cline said he spoke with representatives of the Redmond Education Association teachers’ union Monday evening after he informed parents of the pause. They appreciated his decision, he said.

Barry Branaugh — a board member of the teachers’ union and a social studies teacher at Ridgeview High School — called Cline’s decision a “double-edged sword.” “We’re happy that it’s happening from the health perspective, because it’s what needs to happen,” Branaugh told The Bulletin Tuesday. “But … the bummer of this is that (limited in-person learning) has been helpful to kids who need it.”

Tim Carpenter, chair of the Redmond School Board, said he understands Cline’s decision.

“With the way the numbers have been in Deschutes County the last few weeks, I saw where Dr. Cline was coming from,” he said.

Stephanie Oster — a Redmond parent whose daughter, a fourth grader, was attending limited in-person classes at M.A. Lynch Elementary five days a week— was upset with the limited in-person pause.

Keeping kids out of these classes will further their educational setbacks, Oster said. She also pointed out that COVID-19 case rates are much lower in children than adults.

“It just seems so overkill,” Oster told The Bulletin Tuesday. “It is disturbing to me that we’re this far in, and making decisions that are not based in anything solid.”

As of Sunday, cases for Deschutes County residents below age 20 made up 15% of the total cumulative case count, despite that age group representing 22% of the county’s population, according to the Deschutes County Health Department. No one under the age of 60 has died of COVID-19 in Deschutes County .

Cline sympathizes with Redmond’s angry parents, he said.

“I’m extraordinarily frustrated, and I understand why parents would be frustrated,” he said. “We want to do everything we can to get kids back in front of their teacher.”

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