Parents of Baker School District students will have a chance to ask Superintendent Mark Witty during a Zoom meeting Wednesday evening about plans to possibly resume in-person classes for younger students on Oct. 12.
Witty also encourages parents to outline their problems regarding the online classes that started Sept. 8.
“I want to hear concerns or questions parents may have about how things are going and the decisions we are making as we work our way back to in-person learning,” Witty said.
A link to the Zoom meeting, which starts at 6:30 p.m., is available on the Baker City Herald’s Facebook page and here:
During a Baker School Board meeting Sept. 23, Witty said the District’s goal is to welcome students from preschool to sixth-grade back to classrooms on Oct. 12.
That proposal, Witty emphasized, depends on Baker County continuing its recent trend of having few new COVID-19 cases. The county has had seven new cases in the past 3 weeks. The state threshold for in-person classes is 30 or fewer new cases over the most recent 3-week period.
Witty said Monday that he believes the majority — “but not all” — of the district’s teachers and staff “would like to get back to in-person if we can.”
“But of course we want to do it in a safe manner,” Witty said.
He will be joined in Wednesday’s Zoom meeting by Nancy Staten, director of the Baker County Health Department, and Dr. Eric Lamb, the county’s public health officer.
In addition to ensuring the county meets the state limit for the number of new cases, the school district would have to have the approval from Lamb that there is no community spread of the virus before any in-person classes could resume.
Witty said the current proposal to bring younger students back to schools, but not seventh- through 12th-graders, is based on the state requirements for how many people students can interact with per week while attending classes.
The current limit is 50 people, Witty said.
Baker schools can comply with that requirement for students in elementary and primary schools because they spend most of their day in the same room, being taught by the same teacher, Witty said.
But middle school and high school students move from classroom to classroom for their various subjects, so they would be exposed to more than 50 people per week, he said.
It’s not feasible to deal with the issue by having middle school and high school students, like their younger counterparts, stay in a single room and have their various teachers move from room to room, Witty said.
For one thing, he said, certain science classes that include lab experiments can only happen in a specially equipped room, so students taking those classes would have to cycle in and out.
For another, that system would require that students be broken into groups based on all of them having the exact slate of courses.
The hybrid model that district officials proposed this summer — with seventh- through 12th-graders taking in-person classes 2 days per week, and taking online classes the other 2 days — would be feasible if the state raised the weekly limit from the current 50 students to 100 students, Witty said.
He pointed out that state education and health officials this summer enacted less-stringent guidelines for schools in sparsely populated counties, including Baker. He said he has been talking weekly with state officials about the prospect of further liberalizing the guidelines to potentially make it possible to have Baker middle school and high school students attend in-person classes at least part of the time.
“The state did listen to us previously,” Witty said.