New COVID rules and staff shortages: How Oregon schools are preparing for year ahead
The start of the school year is just around the corner and school leaders in the state are facing new COVID-19 guidelines, staff shortages and the need for more mental health services for Oregon's youth.
The start of the school year is just around the corner, making it three years since educators across the nation first began to adjust to COVID-19 and guidelines given by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Last week, the CDC announced new guidelines loosening previous decisions and leaving safety measures up to schools and their county and state public health officials.
“We are very appreciative as local school districts to be provided with a little more authority,” said Ryan Carpenter, superintendent of Estacada School District.
Carpenter said the goal for his district is to support individual choices. While masking will be up to the individual, schools can take action where they see fit.
Steve Cook is the superintendent for the Bend La-Pine School District. He said that in the past the district has made masking required for certain classrooms and grade levels to manage increasing cases of COVID-19 and that this mindset will continue.
“There will be times when we have issues in classrooms where we’ll have to intervene,” he said.
Beyond COVID-19, across the nation schools are dealing with staff shortages for teachers, substitutes and general faculty.
Ukiah School District Superintendent Laura Orr says there are no local substitutes in her rural area, with the nearest being 50 miles away.
This often means she has to step away from her other roles as a teacher, principal and superintendent to fill the gaps when someone is out. And that includes working in the cafeteria.
“There’s only so many people to do the job, " she said. “It’s the reality of rural school districts. You cover each other’s backs.”
Bend La-Pine schools are also in a similar position. Cook says he has had trouble recruiting people for positions in custodial and nutritional services.
“I don’t think it’s limited to rural districts anymore. I think it’s a public education issue,” he said.
In addition to a shortage of teachers, substitutes and cafeteria workers, schools are also seeing a shortage of psychological services to address the mental health needs of their students.
Ryan Carpenter of Estacada School District said while he has been able to hire some staff to fit the social and emotional needs of students, it’s been difficult to find qualified staff and keep them.
“We’re constantly seeing turnover,” he said.
In rural Oregon, Laura Orr says that because of the size of her district she cannot hire a counselor and shares one regionally that she gets from the state. She says her community and students need the services but just can’t access them.
“You cannot have the kids working on those educational gaps and making their needed academic progress if their mindset is not in the right place,” Orr said.
Ryan Carpenter, Laura Orr and Steve Cook all joined OPB's Think Out Loud to discuss the upcoming school year.
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