Dear Valley Catholic School Community,
As the end of the first academic quarter approaches on November 6, I am writing to update you on Valley Catholic’s plan to begin bringing students back to campus.
Valley Catholic School will continue to take a cautious approach, with our first priority being the safety of students and staff members. As case counts in Washington County and throughout the State continue to climb, schools are also feeling the pressure to have students return to the classroom. We have a strong desire to return to in person classroom instruction, but must wait until metrics are met so we have the assurance of health authorities that it is safe to do so.
Valley Catholic School is just one entity on the SSMO Campus. Unlike other schools, we also need to take into account the vulnerability of the Sisters living in the convent, as well as the residents at Maryville. Over the past few months, and in spite of our best efforts, COVID-19 has impacted both of these communities. Three Sisters tested positive a few weeks ago and, thankfully, all are now recovering. Maryville has also experienced an outbreak of COVID-19 with a number of employees and residents testing positive. We have observed how the Sisters and our colleagues at Maryville follow all protocols and best practices and we note how challenging it is to stop the spread of the virus. This experience confirms our need to be cautious when making decisions about bringing students and teachers back to school.
With this information as a backdrop, here are our plans for moving forward with a limited return of students to campus during the second academic quarter:
Comprehensive Distance Learning: All of our students K-12 will begin the second quarter via the digital learning platform. For students in grades 4-12, academic instruction will continue using our comprehensive digital learning platforms through the end of the first semester, on January 22, 2021. The Oregon Department of Education metrics allow for grades K-3 to return to the classroom earlier than other grades. Therefore, if K-3 state and county metrics are met prior to the end of the semester, Valley Catholic will bring these students back to the classroom mid-semester. Again, the metrics must be met in order for this transition to happen.
State and County Metrics: Governor Brown recently announced that the Oregon Health Authority is in the process of re-evaluating the system of metrics for school reopening, and an announcement is expected within the next week or two. We will notify families if there are any substantial changes that impact Valley Catholic’s ability to return to the classroom earlier than is outlined here.
Limitations on Returning to Campus: ODE guidance states that no more than 250 students may be on-site in a given week. At Valley Catholic, the high school is considered its own “facility,” so the high school program could bring in a capacity of 250 students/week. The elementary and middle schools share a building, and together they may only allow a capacity of 250 students/week into the shared building which requires coordination to ensure this number is not exceeded. At all levels and for all activities (including athletics), there is a maximum of 10 students per cohort group, and activities are limited to 2 hours.
In-Person Opportunities for Elementary School Students: Beginning in early November, elementary school students will have an opportunity to come to school one day per week for activities that focus on social-emotional learning, getting to know their peers, and having fun. These opportunities will take place in the afternoons, from 3:00 – 4:00 pm, after daily instruction is complete. Students can come every week, or weeks that are convenient for their families, or not at all. Due to the regulations on the number of students we can have on-site each week, some grades may need to be scheduled on alternating weeks.
Priority for K – 3 Return to School: ODE Guidelines provide for the option of limited, 2-hours per day classroom instruction in small groups prior to meeting State and County metrics. We will monitor these metrics and will consider having K-3 students return to the classroom on a limited basis as the numbers approach the benchmark. This could occur prior to the end of the second academic quarter.
In-Person Opportunities for Middle School Students: VCMS will be offering off-campus trips that primarily focus on facilitating in-person social time but also help capture elements of our traditional off-campus activities (i.e. Outdoor School) that normally occur during the fall.
In order to ensure the safety of both the staff and students, these outings will be optional and are not school-sponsored. They are opportunities for students and their parent/chaperone to choose to meet at the same location, at the same time, with VCMS staff acting as docents (not supervisors). These trips will begin in early November.
In-Person Opportunities for High School Students: Over the past four weeks the high school has hosted in-person social and community-building activities by grade level, and provided opportunities for students to attend Masses and participate in service projects out in the community.
Starting next week (Monday, October 26), athletic teams will begin conditioning workouts, teachers will have the opportunity to schedule small-group academic activities (i.e. science labs), and teachers may start offering in-person meetings for advisory groups, clubs and co-curricular activities. An in-person senior retreat is also being planned for later in the quarter. All on-site gatherings will follow cohort size and social distancing requirements.
In closing, Valley Catholic is aware that there are a wide range of perspectives and a great deal of uncertainty about returning to school. Some families are ready to return right now, while others have expressed that they prefer to wait until Washington County metrics are fully met. Likewise, some teachers are anxious to get back into their classrooms while others may personally be or have family members in higher risk categories that currently prevent them from returning to the classroom. For this reason we are offering optional opportunities so individuals can choose what is best for them, and we are ensuring that any academic activity also includes a digital option. We hope to provide enough options to satisfy those who wish to return, while not creating any situation where a student or teacher feels that it is not safe to continue at Valley Catholic School.
We will continue to keep families informed as decisions are made, and look forward to welcoming Valley Catholic students and teachers back to campus on an extended basis as this becomes feasible.
Valley Catholic School