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Regional Interests

3 small Oregon school districts delay start of school year, citing COVID

The South Umpqua School District service center in Myrtle Creek, Ore., Sunday, Aug. 29, 2019. The district will soon implement curriculum developed in collaboration with the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians.
The South Umpqua School District service center in Myrtle Creek, Ore., Sunday, Aug. 29, 2019. The district will soon implement curriculum developed in collaboration with the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians.

As the start of the school year looms, at least three Oregon school districts have delayed the start of the new school year.

In the Alsea School District in Benton County, school was set to start on Monday. But on Aug. 21, Superintendent Marc Thielman shared a message with families, announcing a delay to the school year due to an elementary staff member testing positive for COVID-19. School staff was in training together, Thielman said.

“I realize that this delay will be very inconvenient for many families and for that I am truly sorry,” Thielman wrote. “This new Delta-COVID strain is creating new challenges, but I am very confident that Alsea is up for the challenge.”

The first day of school will now be Aug. 30.

Two other districts, both in Douglas County, have announced delays too. Douglas County has had 1,125 cases per 100,000 people in the last seven days, the highest in the state. In the Oregon Health Authority’s Aug. 23 update, Douglas County reported 398 new cases and five deaths between Aug. 20 and Aug. 22.

The school year will now begin Sept. 7 for South Umpqua High School students due to staff members in isolation or quarantine. According to the message from Supt. Kate McLaughlin, the district has also lost a staff member from COVID-19.

“This one-week delay will allow the high school community to grieve the passing of our staff member, but also allow our staff currently sick with COVID-19 the opportunity to heal and return from quarantine,” McLaughlin wrote.

McLaughlin said the school does not have currently have enough staff to open. The district’s other schools will open on Aug. 30 as planned.

“We are not alone in this situation, as many other districts are also navigating staffing shortages due to the virus,” McLaughlin wrote in a message to OPB.

The Elkton school board, also in Douglas County, voted Monday evening to delay the start of school for three weeks “due to the current surge of COVID cases in Douglas County.” School will now begin on Sept. 20.

The total number of Oregon students affected is relatively small. The three small, rural districts serve a little more than 2000 students altogether.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting