TIGARD, Ore. — As COVID-19 cases decrease in the Portland metro area, leaders in the Tigard-Tualatin School District are becoming more optimistic.
Until now, the district has allowed a very limited number of volunteers into schools — only if they were critical to serving students. Starting next week, that's going to change.
Superintendent Dr. Sue Rieke-Smith said the district plans to start allowing more volunteers and visitors into its schools rather than just a limited number.
“We as Tigard-Tualatin started to say, ‘okay, what are some of the next things that we can put on to the plate that will move us one step further along towards a full, normal, if you will, school experience that that we're used to pre-pandemic,” said Rieke-Smith.
She said volunteers will have to be vaccinated, and she's excited about having more of them back with kids.
“They are the heart and blood of our communities in terms of […] another caring adult or groups of adults that interact with our students,” Rieke-Smith said.
She said all types of volunteers may be returning, from student mentors at the high school level to parents who want to help out in classrooms to volunteers who read with students.
Also in the works are plans to bring back afterschool activities like chess club and Spanish language club. Rieke-Smith said the district is also planning to hold some festive performances in the winter with COVID precautions in place.
“We are being very thoughtful and will, this year, hold all of our holiday and fall concerts that we were not able to hold last year, which is great news,” she said.
What COVID-19 numbers look like in the district
But Rieke-Smith, who has a background in health care, said it's possible the plans could change at any point, depending on what happens with the ebb and flow of the pandemic.
“We currently, this last week, have 249 students still in quarantine. So, we're not done yet. This disease is still very prevalent,” said Rieke-Smith.
The 249 students in quarantine equate to a very small percentage of the roughly 12,000 students in the district. In addition, Rieke-Smith said in the last week, out of 20 COVID-19 cases, 18 of them were exposed to COVID outside of school.
“That's why we continue to stress to our community, please be a good partner with us. Please mask up. Please don't send kids to school if you think they've got any of these [COVID] signs or symptoms,” said Rieke-Smith.
“The fact of the matter is vaccination matters. Immunity matters.”
Districts have varying protocols.
In the Hillsboro School District, there are plans to open volunteer applications for everyone in the district’s volunteer database by the middle of next week.
A spokesperson for Salem-Keizer Public Schools said they're not planning to have the discussion until December. However, the district's website said a very limited number of visitors and volunteers are currently allowed into schools.
A spokesperson for Oregon’s largest school district, Portland Public Schools (PPS), said visitors have been allowed all year at each school principal’s discretion.
On Oct. 18, PPS started to require proof of vaccination for visitors who spend more than 15 minutes on a campus.