A Return to Normalcy

Empty classrooms, bells echoing through deserted hallways and vacant parking lots. This has been the scene for schools around America since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020. Since then, reopening guidelines with the Oregon Department of Education have shifted at least twice. While students and staff wait eagerly to return, school administration is in charge of making the tough decisions on when to return to in-person instruction and how to do so safely.

“Right now the plan is to return once the numbers get under 200,” said Travis Howard, Marshfield High School principal, in reference to the number of COVID-19 cases within Coos County.

Currently, high schools are recommended to follow reopening guidelines, called metrics, set forth by the Oregon Department of Education. Schools that do not follow the recommendations are subject to liability should an outbreak occur in the school. The school district is working hand-in-hand with the Oregon Health Authority to reopen schools once the active COVID-19 cases in our county drop below 200 cases in a two-week period. In the past month, they have ranged from 202-284. Until we reach that 200 case mark, students will be taking part in comprehensive distance learning.

“Some students have done well in distance learning, but some do better in a classroom,” said MHS counselor Jessica Nickerson. “For some students distance learning is very difficult.”

The counselors are frequently following up with students who are struggling with motivation at home. Many staff and students feel isolated with online teaching and learning. Even the Governor of Oregon has been pushing for a return to in-person instruction citing teen suicide, depression and declining mental health.

“I very much miss the kids because being around kids is why I chose to be in the education department,” said Casey McCord, MHS Dean of Students.

With a short-term goal of 200 cases or less in sight, students and staff wait for their chance to interact in person. While they wait, new COVID-19 variants are appearing in the United States, and the course of the pandemic leaves many questions.

“It looks like we will be back next year but then again cases can change in a matter of days as we’ve seen,” said Howard. “It is looking like it is safe to go back.”

Most students will choose to return to in-person instruction when available, but there will still be options for those who feel unsafe.

“For those students who do not want to go back to in-person school, there will still be the option to continue doing distance learning,” McCord said.