Pendleton School District

Students depart Pendleton High School in Pendleton in early March shortly before schools throughout the state were forced closed due to COVID-19.

PENDLETON — As COVID-19 continues to spread, the Pendleton School District is attempting to organize something closer to a traditional school year. But come Sept. 1, school will still look a lot different than it did before the pandemic.

The Pendleton School Board discussed the district’s reopening plan at a Tuesday, July 7, meeting. Under the current plan, high school students would go to school every other day, daytime visitors and volunteers would be prohibited, and field trips and school assemblies would be canceled.

A draft of the district’s general guidelines for reopening highlights some of the other changes.

Classes may have no more than seven students per 250 square feet, and even staff gatherings can get no larger than 25 people. Mask wearing for students will be left at the discretion of parents, but will be recommended for all staff and required for some, like cafeteria workers and bus drivers. The district is aiming to distribute laptops to every student to allow distance learning to continue for students who can’t attend physical school.

Despite the operational changes, Superintendent Chris Fritsch told the board that the district is trying to retain some normal procedures.

For instance, Fritsch said he wants to avoid having students stay in one classroom for most of the day, using music class as an example where students might get a change of scenery during the day.

“I think there’s some social-emotional problems with that model,” he said.

Some of the most significant changes are going at the high school, where the student body is being split evenly between those who go to school on even-numbered days and those who attend on odd-numbered days.

Medically vulnerable students will be assigned to one of the cohorts and participate through distance learning, and all off-site students are expected to log in for online learning on days when they’re supposed to be in school.

Fritsch said the district’s plans were informed by data the district collected after three months of impromptu distance learning ended in June.

A study of how much work was completed during distance learning showed a mixed picture. On one hand, a solid plurality of students did 80% or more of the assignments. On the other, 1 in 5 students did little to no work at all.

Board member Debbie McBee showed concern for some of the results.

“To me, that many kids doing basically nothing is alarming,” she said.

Fritsch was quick to avoid casting blame on teachers or parents, adding that many were asked to make a difficult transition very quickly.

While a survey of more than 1,000 parents showed that nearly half of parents were satisfied with distance learning, about 1 in 3 said they were unsatisfied. Nearly half of the dissatisfied parents said the main reasons for frustration was that they were unable or unavailable to help their children.

The survey also showed nearly 90% of parents were ready to send their students to school should in-person instruction return in the fall, although a majority preferred half-days instead of an every other day model.

The district will take the board’s input and eventually return with a final plan for board approval. Fritsch said the board will also approve a revised schedule that will remove five days from the end of the school year.

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