PHOENIX, Ore. — “The devastating fires that really disproportionately affected our most vulnerable population. They are our hearts and minds every day,” said Phoenix-Talent Superintendent Brent Barry.
700 students in the Phoenix-Talent School District lost their homes in the deadly Almeda Fire.
Now, an emergency waiver is granting them a new opportunity to head back to the classroom.
“We know the impacts of trauma and we know schools are vital to our community, our kids, and our families,” said Barry.
The Oregon Department of Education is allowing three school districts: Mckenzie, Santiam Canyon, and Phoenix-Talent to have emergency in-person instruction.
Phoenix-Talent Superintendent Brent Barry says the district will bring many students back to the classroom while still incorporating distance learning.
“It’s important to get kids connected. Many of the reasons that we’re bringing kids on campus is for mental health support, social and emotional well being,” he said.
Currently, Barry says the district is doing distance learning with limited in person instruction for vulnerable students.
But he says distance learning has its own challenges, whether that’s with connectivity, engagement, and non-English learners getting the support they need.
He says roughly 40 to 45 percent of the district is Hispanic.
“I’m proud of the work that they’ve done through the distance learning. But we have an opportunity to work with students that have the greatest need,” Barry said.
A big concern, Barry says, is the global pandemic.
He says reviewing and refining the district’s safety protocols is paramount.
“We know that presents many emotions and anxiety and some excitement for families,” he said.
Although the logistics of bringing kids back to school won’t be easy, Barry says the waiver is a vital step as the community works to rebuild and heal.
“I think this is a resilient school district and community. Our mantra is kind of [Pheonix-Talent] rising. And it really takes a whole new approach when we talk about the impacts of the fire as well and how we’re going to come through that,” Barry said.
Barry says implementing the emergency waiver could take weeks to months.
He says they need to figure out transportation, food services, and refining coronavirus safety guidelines.
The emergency waiver also applies to students displaced because of the loss of their home or who remain in a level 3 evacuation zone.
The waiver lists specific school districts where some students are eligible for in-person instruction.
The list includes Ashland, Eagle Point, Klamath County, Medford, and Three Rivers.
Amanda Rose is a multimedia journalist for NBC5 News. Amanda graduated from Columbia University earning a Master’s degree in Journalism. She also received a Bachelor’s degree in English with a specialization in literature from the University of British Columbia.
She’s a Los Angeles native, but is thrilled to return to the beautiful Pacific Northwest and is passionate about reporting on the criminal justice system.