Baker School District Superintendent Mark Witty is proposing to start classes Sept. 8 rather than Aug. 31, as originally planned, to give teachers and staff an extra week to prepare for changes related to the pandemic.

And the district’s athletic director told the school board during its meeting Thursday that fall sports schedules also likely will have to be modified.

“Best case scenario, things will get moved back a little and we’ll play locally,” athletic director Buell Gonzales Jr. said. “But we might lose football completely.”

Gonzales said the executive board of the Oregon School Activities Association, which governs high school athletics, will meet next week to discuss fall sports.

Fall classes

The board will meet July 30 at noon to discuss Witty’s proposal to start classes on Tuesday, Sept. 8, the day after Labor Day.

Details about the meeting, which will be conducted online via the Zoom app, will be announced.

The district’s current plan calls for students in grades K-6 to attend classes in person four days per week as usual.

Students at Baker Middle School and Baker High School would be divided into two groups, with one group attending classes at the school 2 days per week while the other group attends the same classes online.

But Witty told the board Thursday that he is preparing for the possibility that even that limited schedule of in-person classes won’t be possible depending on the severity of the pandemic.

“Quite frankly, I think we have to realize that we might have to prepare for all-online this year at some point,” Witty said.

The July 30 meeting will be devoted to the question of whether classes should start Sept. 8.

The board will also meet on Aug. 13 to review a detailed reopening plan for the fall, including the schedule for all schools.

School districts must submit their reopening plans to the Oregon Department of Education by Aug. 15.

“We want to do what’s best for the kids,” board member Katie Lamb said Thursday.

Although the district’s goal is to have as many in-person classes as possible, Witty said some families have already told district officials that they plan to have their children take all classes online this fall.

Witty said he understands those parents’ decisions.

“It’s not for me to decide whether they should be there,” Witty said. “That’s a family decision, and it’s up to us to provide the best education possible.”

Witty urged parents to notify the district as soon as possible if they intend to have their children attend online so officials can have an estimate of how many students will choose that option.

Scheduling isn’t the only potential challenge this fall, Witty said.

He said the Oregon Health Authority might require both staff and students to wear face coverings this fall.

The district is also planning bus schedules, food service and scheduling substitute teachers, Witty said.

Bus capacity has been reduced from 77 riders to 24 per bus, and substitute drivers are in short supply. While Witty said that bus capacity being increased may be discussed as an option, it wasn’t the first resort or an ideal option.

The board is considering requiring students who live within a 1 1/2-mile radius of school to walk or be dropped off, prioritizing bus space for students who live in rural areas.

In addition, staff shortages may also become a major problem.

With COVID regulations in place, staff are required to stay home for up to three days after a fever and have 80 hours of extra sick leave, meaning there may be instances where the school simply doesn’t have a full staff.

Witty said that if the district is short on cafeteria workers, substitutes or bus drivers, school shuts down.

“If we can’t feed the kids, we can’t legally have school,” he said.

The board is planning on launching a recruitment campaign for new staff members in these positions.

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