(Update: Adding video, student comments)
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Bend-La Pine middle and high schools welcomed back students on Monday, making it the first day in more than 10 months that all of the district's schools were open to students for full-day, in-person instruction.
“It was my first day being back in the high school since March, so I haven’t been back there in almost a year,” said Sophie Haney, a sophomore at Bend Senior High School.
“It felt really good, it felt back to normal again. Things were different, but it just felt like it was back to normal. It was great.”
School staff members have been working toward fully opening up the school for months now, making numerous changes to meet federal and state COVID-19 public health guidelines. The district's elementary schools reopened to students last month.
At a webinar Monday hosted by the Bend Chamber, school officials stressed that reopening schools while keeping students (as well as staff members) safe remains the top priority.
School Board Chair Carrie Douglass said, “As of today, 85% of Bend-La Pine families have chosen to return for in-person learning and are back in school, either full-time or hybrid.”
Thousands of Bend-La Pine teachers and staff also have received their first COVID-19 vaccine doses, with many scheduled to get their second does on Friday.
Interim Superintendent Lora Nordquist also spoke on the call. She said, “I do want to note that as part of that celebration, we are the only one of the 10 largest districts in the state of Oregon to open for (all) students. Many are still months away from considering (reopening schools). I think that says a lot about the collaborative effort with our families, with our staff, with our leadership, and the community.”
When asked what key factors were considered in the decision to open all the schools, Douglass said, “We believe that schools are essential for learning, for other services and for the economy. “We believe that after looking at all the research and data, that we can mitigate the risk to our staff and students by following all of the policies and guidelines from the CDC and the state.”
Nordquist also estimated that 40-50% of the students who were distance learning were not doing very well. That increased their sense of urgency to have schools open again.
At Bend High, Haney noticed the school's COVID-19 guidance was evident during her first day back at school.
“Everyone is wearing masks, and so obviously that’s a big thing," she said. "And for tables, when we’re in a classrooms there’s just one person at a table. Previously it would have been like four people at a table. It’s very spaced out, and in the hallways, there’s directions of arrows that you’re supposed to go to -- and lots of hand sanitizers everywhere.”