Amid COVID-19 surge, schools in Jackson Co. trying to finish year strong

JACKSON COUNTY, Ore. —With the school year winding down, educators are being confronted with a new reality, as they begin a new month. The state increased the amount of time students may have to quarantine, late last week. And with Oregon in the midst of the 4th wave of COVID-19, it’s bringing a new challenge to schools.

Educators say students and staff have settled into the swing of this new environment. But as the risk levels change in Jackson County, the schools are discovering different challenges.

“The reality is when there is spread in the community, that is going to have ramifications on the school,” said Superintendent Bret Champion.

The Medford School District has done full in-person instruction for almost a month now. Before that, some students had been out of the classroom for over a year.

“We had students who were freshman or were in kindergarten or in sixth or seventh grade who had never actually physically been in their school building,” said Champion.

With Jackson County back in the ‘extreme risk’ category, Superintendent Bret Champion says more cases in the community means more in the classroom.

With state health officials increasing quarantine protocols, to 14 days, an entire class in elementary school could be out weeks, with one positive test. For the secondary and high school level, the immediate circle sitting near the student must do the same.

“Even though there are families having to quarantine and kids having to quarantine and in some cases educators, the great majority are still in class,” said Champion.

“The last thing we want to do is quarantine but we know that we have supports in place so to assist those students and families if and when that does happen,” said Phoenix High Principal Toby Walker.

The Phoenix Talent School District, students have been back since February. Principal Walker says he’s seen great strides in that time.

“A majority of the students do much better in person not just academically, but socially and emotionally we’ve seen an amazing amount of kids regaining credit, getting reconnected to students and staff from being there on a consistent basis,” said Walker.

With June only a month away, end-of-year celebrations are in the works. For some, that means graduation.

“Being in extreme risk has definitely added another obstacle but having multiple plans and multiple ways to run things to try to honor the class of 2021 the best we can,” said Walker.

Both educators hope Jackson County starts seeing a decline in cases soon, so as many people as possible can celebrate graduating seniors, in just a few weeks.

Both schools say they are beginning conversations to navigate graduation plans. They say celebrating seniors is a top priority.

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