Here's how south Siskiyou schools plan to welcome students back to classrooms

Skye Kinkade
Mount Shasta Herald
Students sit and work silently in Mrs. Bourke's eighth grade classroom at Sisson School in Mount Shasta.

Over the next month, students will begin trickling back into south county classrooms, as school boards decide how to tackle issues the pandemic presents.

With the exception of Weed Elementary, McCloud Elementary and Dunsmuir High, all south county schools started the year with distance learning and are in various stages of transitioning to hybrid models.

Mount Shasta Elementary School and Sisson students began attending classes in person two days a week, four hours a day on Monday. The other three days, students will engage in online learning with the teachers they started the year with in August.

Butteville Elementary School in Edgewood began welcoming younger students on campus four days a week and will discuss a plan for grades 4-8 during a special meeting on Oct. 13, said principal/superintendent Eric Bragg.

More:These south Siskiyou schools opened classrooms during a pandemic. Here's how it's going

More:Following pause, Yreka elementary schools return to in-person learning

High schools in Weed, McCloud, Mount Shasta and Happy Camp will start a hybrid schedule on Nov. 9, with 50% of students going to campus at a time to assist with social distancing. Until then, students who have been identified as needing extra support will work on campus in small groups.

The Dunsmuir Elementary School board will discuss a possible move to a hybrid model during a special meeting on Tuesday, said principal/superintendent Susan Keeler. In that model, students would come to school either two or three days a week on alternating weeks and learning from home on the days they’re not at campus.

It’s possible that schedule could begin at DES as soon as Oct. 22, Keeler said.

When COVID-19 closed Mount Shasta Elementary in March, students collected work on the bus bench.

Reopening cautiously is important for many small districts in Siskiyou County because face-to-face interaction and the possibility of COVID-19 transmission opens the door for lawsuits. The Legislature adjourned on Sept. 1 without providing legal protection for school districts, even when they follow  COVID-19 health and safety guidelines and act in good faith.

Butteville originally planned to have younger students on campus to begin the school year in August, but the state’s failure to pass protective legislation  changed the board’s mind.

“One lawsuit could very easily shut our doors for good,” said Bragg.

However, parents in many districts insist they want their children back in classrooms. Nearly 200 parents joined a Facebook group, Mt. Shasta M4-Access, which advocates for children to receive in-person instruction. 

Weed Elementary School has seen its enrollment grow by about 50 students since last year, said principal/superintendent Jon Ray, as parents who are adamant about face-to-face instruction request interdistrict transfers.

Siskiyou County Superintendent of Schools Kermith Walters said he has seen some parents transitioning their students from public schools to charter schools, which are well versed in providing quality distance learning programs. 

Schools had the green light to open in August with a variety of safety precautions in place. Each individual school board was allowed to create their own reopening plan, as long as it met or exceeded state and local safety requirements.

Some school districts, like Mount Shasta Elementary School District, said they preferred to concentrate on building their online programs before reopening classrooms, just in case an outbreak later in the school year forced schools to close again.

“Most of our focus during the summer was on the continuity of learning and on the distance learning model in particular because we knew distance learning was going to be a vital part of the school year with quarantines and other disruptions even if we started in a hybrid model,” according to a FAQ issued by the MSUSD last week. Time is now ripe to plan the next steps in reopening, the document says.

At Butteville, the issue is space, said Bragg. 

“We do not have extra classrooms, teachers, and aides to facilitate more students on campus,” he said. “Most importantly, we are trying to provide the safest environment for student learning. Our belief is that we will be moving in and out of in-person and distance learning all year and our teachers are planned and prepared for this possibility.”

More:South Siskiyou schools open with distance learning

Dunsmuir Elementary School first Grader Sarah Butler is all prepared to begin her school year learning online.

Walters said he’s proud of the schools for their good work ensuring their districts’ 6,000 K-12 students receive a quality education, whether from home or in the classroom. He said they’ve done an admirable job keeping students and staff safe during the pandemic.

As of Friday, there had been no COVID-19 scares in south county schools, although there was an incident when two staff members tested positive at Yreka Union Elementary Schools in September. This prompted both Jackson Street Middle School and Evergreen Elementary to transition to distance learning for two weeks.

“As far as we know, there have been no students that have been affected by COVID at our school sites,” said Walters.