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Some smaller school districts delay school year because of COVID exposures

Alsea – in Benton County - is one of eight small rural districts around Oregon that closed for in-person learning since the start of the school year.

ALSEA, Ore. — The school year just started and already the delta variant is throwing off back-to-school plans. COVID cases are rising among children, along with school closures.

Data from Burbio, an organization tracking school disruptions, shows over 1,000 schools nationwide have closed since the start of the school year. Several are in Oregon.

Jamie Olsens' sons looked forward to going back to school in person every day – as did she. Last year, they attended school nearly every day, barring any temporary closures due to COVID-19 exposure.

When Alsea School District pulled the plug with one week heads-up, she got a little stressed.

“The delay was a little disheartening and a little nerve-wracking,” Olsen said. “I wondered if it was a little glimpse of what was to come. And I wasn't ready to pack up my office and be a teacher/working mom again.”

In mid-August, Alsea School District Superintendent Marc Thielman delayed school a week after an elementary staff member tested positive during teacher training.

“The concern for us is, if we did have spread, would we have enough subs to open up school on Monday? And obviously, we don't, we only have a few subs. We're a small district so I made the decision to delay the school year,” Thielman told KGW.

Alsea – in Benton County - is one of eight small rural districts around Oregon that closed for in-person learning since the start of the school year. Districts delayed the first day, with two in Tillamook County shifting virtual for the time being.

Superintendents cite rampant coronavirus spread in their communities, leading to multiple staff and students being sick or exposed.

RELATED: What happens when students and staff are exposed to COVID-19 in Oregon?

“I always make sure I apologize because it is inconvenient, there's no question about it. But these are the times we’re in and parents have been amazingly resilient and incredibly helpful,” Thielman added.

The Vernonia School District delayed the first day of school after losing an employee to COVID-19. With others exposed in quarantine, they didn't have enough drivers to bus kids to school.

“We’ve been keeping an eye on the community and delta variant all summer and we were pretty much ready to pull the plug if we had to,” Clatskanie School District Superintendent Cathy Hurowitz said.

RELATED: COVID-19 safety concerns persist through start of school year

Clatskanie School District in Columbia County had an outbreak a week before school started, with over 50 students and staff in quarantine. Hurowitz decided to push the first day back two weeks to Monday, Sept. 13.

“It was a tough decision but when we really thought about keeping kids safe and having a really exciting return to school the decision was simple,” Hurowitz said. “The other problem in Columbia County is we have no hospital.”

She says the pause gave staff time to solidify remote learning plans for kids in quarantine.

While a few got sick and more had to quarantine since school started two weeks ago for Alsea, Thielman says there's little spread and little disruption to learning.

“So far, so good,” Thielman said. “We have Google classroom and send work home. If a child ends up testing positive we work with the family to deliver a Chromebook computer so that kids can access their work.”

“I felt last year went so fabulous and I had so much faith in the district and leadership and staff to do everything they needed to do for our kids to keep them safe,” Olsen said. “I have faith they're going to keep [school] open and work hard for our kids.”

Burbio data shows zero schools in Washington state have closed or been delayed due to COVID so far this school year.

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