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Students at Eagle Point will split shift

EAGLE POINT ' Eagle Point High School will go on double-shifts for the coming school year to accommodate 700 middle school students whose school burned down Thursday morning.

The 1,200 high school students will attend from 6:30 a.m. to noon; the middle school students will go from 12:30 to 6:30 p.m.

All students will attend school about an hour less than normal, and school will start about a week late to give teachers and staff time to adjust after the early morning blaze destroyed Eagle Point Middle School's gymnasium and administration building.

We'll do whatever it takes, whatever is best for the kids, said high school teacher Jody Streetman, president of the Eagle Point Education Association. We're a community and a family, and we're going to survive this.

The reduction in class time will mean the district will have to petition the Oregon Department of Education for a one-year waiver.

It looks like we'll fall below state standards, said Superintendent Bill Jones, but we'll just have to remedy that next year. The quality (of instruction) will not decline, though.

The Eagle Point School Board Friday voted unanimously for the double-shifts, rejecting a proposal to bring in 29 portable classrooms. It also passed on offers for using church annex space, sending students to other districts and busing them to classes in vacant Medford retail spaces.

The administration wants to make it as much like the middle school concept as they can, Streetman said. And the only way to do that is to keep the staff and students together.

Talk of using the four relatively undamaged sections of the middle school was quickly squelched when Jones informed the board the state Department of Environmental Quality had put a blanket over the whole campus. The DEQ found asbestos tiles under the damaged carpets. A hazardous materials team will dispose of the asbestos soon, he said.

There are few practical options, said Jones. Doubling up is really the only viable course.

The district is insured for &

36;57.6 million in losses, which will cover demolition of the burned middle school and construction of a new one. The district could accept a cash settlement instead, said the district's agent, Dennis Flenner of Protectors Insurance in Medford.

Seventh- and eighth-graders from White City and Shady Cove will be bused this year to Eagle Point High School for classes, but the sixth-graders will stay at their respective elementary schools. They had been scheduled to join the middle school in a new program combining grades sixth, seventh and eighth.

All sports will continue as scheduled, although the new high school gym is still under construction and the middle school gym was destroyed by the fire, said high school Principal Mari Brabbin. Lunch, or brunch, as school officials are calling it, is scheduled at 9:30 a.m. for high schoolers. Middle schoolers will be served dinner, but a time has not yet been set.

The doubling-up plan presents immediate challenges ' for teenagers, working parents and the district's transportation system.

If they're riding buses, kids are going to have to get up about 4 in the morning, said school board member Doug McKinley. I'm sure they didn't even know this WAS a time.

It will be a welcome to the real world, said Jones.

Getting up early is going to be real hard, agreed ninth-grader Shantee Lecomte.

Middle schooler Kelsey Helveson, who won't start her day until after noon, had the opposite view. No one likes it, but at least I'll get to sleep in.

It's going to work, said her mother, Kathy Helveson, a teacher whose classroom burned. We're all going to pitch in and make it work.

It's almost going to turn my life upside down, said Michelle Rogers of Eagle Point, the parent of first- and sixth-graders. My husband and I both work, and I'm going to have to take my younger one to work with me or find day care that will also drop them off at school. It's going to be real difficult for lots of parents.

Normally, buses ran two routes, morning and afternoon, for all students ' elementary, middle and high school. Now, buses will run six routes: for high school opening, elementary opening, high school closing, middle school opening, elementary closing and middle school closing.

Double-shifting gives students unexpected opportunities to catch up on homework, hold jobs, pursue extra-curricular activities and work on family farms and ranches, said Streetman. She, like many parents and teachers here, endured a nearly identical situation in the 1970s when the high school was being built and classes double-shifted at the middle school.

The district will approve any requested transfers of students out of the area for this year, Jones said, but he cautioned that other districts, already strapped by state budget cutbacks, may not accept such transfers.

John Darling is a free-lance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.