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Ashland High School to resume classroom learning Monday

AHS students had been out of the classroom since Jan. 12 due to COVID-19-related issues, including staffing shortages

After a nearly three-week hiatus from in-person learning, students at Ashland High School are set to return to the classroom Monday.

Ashland School District Superintendent Samuel Bogdanove told the Mail Tribune that in-person learning could in fact start again Jan. 31, as anticipated.

“Short of a new spike, I think we’re pretty confident that we’ll be on track Monday,” he said. “We’re going to continue to closely monitor staff absences and student absences and make whatever necessary decisions we need to moving forward. Leaving on-campus instruction is something we do as a last resort.”

By “spike” he meant an increase in staff members not able to work. In his newsletter dated Jan. 10, Bogdanove cited a limited pool of substitutes in all sectors, from education to administration, as reasons to go virtual. The school itself was 24 staff short, he told the newspaper later, and at the peak of staffing shortages for the entire district, Ashland saw 87 staff members not able to work.

“Those numbers are now much closer to the normal level of absences this time of year,” Bogdanove said.

“Increasing numbers” of people within the district being out due to the coronavirus was another reason AHS reverted to virtual learning, the superintendent stated in a newsletter at the time.

In an interview last week, Bogdanove recalled the reactions from families upon notification that AHS would go temporarily virtual ranged from, “that’s a great idea” to “oh, no!”

“I think both kids and staff really want to be on campus. It’s really the best way to learn,” he said. “So we put out messages telling folks, ‘Yes, we are coming back, we are making responsible decisions in terms of keeping people healthy.’ When you’re worried about something, it really helps to know for sure that you’re going to be able to come back.”

Luke Seeley, the AHS student body president, wrote in an email that while he supported his school’s decision to go remote, “the actual education we’ve received has left something to be desired — at no fault of our teachers.”

He described the virtual curriculum as “rushed and unplanned,” with multiple schedule changes and few assignments.

“There were mandatory Zoom calls this past week for finals, but what that actually looked like varied heavily based on the class,” Seeley wrote.

The decision by the district to close AHS to in-person instruction for the remainder of the month didn’t mean the entire school building shut its doors, however. The computer labs were still open for students, and they were able to eat bagged lunches, courtesy of cafeteria staff, outside and in a socially distanced fashion.

Extracurricular activities, including sports, didn’t fade away, either — even though that’s what was initially announced, Bogdanove noted.

“We got some feedback from coaches and families and felt like we could do it with a reasonable level of safety,” he said.

The superintendent did share some news with the Mail Tribune that might please families — while Omicron has yet to reach its expected peak Feb. 1, the district’s coronavirus case rates have apparently done so and are headed down.

But “that could change,” Bogdanove noted with a word of caution.

“We’re all sort of … learning as we go. I think we have to remain flexible,” he said. “Our goal, if there was another scenario where we had to shut down because of a lack of staffing or other concerns, could be to get kids back in school as quickly as possible.”

Ashland High School’s return to in-person learning comes the same day McLoughlin Middle School in Medford brought back 375 students who were told to go to virtual learning Jan. 27 and 28 due to COVID-19-related issues that impacted staff.

Elsewhere, Butte Falls Charter School’s students and staff returned to campus last week after a high number of coronavirus cases caused it to go virtual for two weeks, much longer than anticipated.

Informed of the circumstances surrounding the two schools, Bogdanove sounded a note of togetherness.

“They’re all our kids — it doesn’t matter where they go — and we want the best for all of our kids,” he said. “Every situation is different. … I’m just rooting for everyone to get back in school and finish as much of the school year as we can on campus.”

Seeley was hopeful AHS would not go back to virtual learning this year.

"A similar CDL break due to high infection rates somewhere down the road is certainly a concern, but I’m hopeful that continued immunizations within our community and proper safety guidelines at the high school can keep us safe,“ he wrote. ”We’ll see what the rest of 2022 holds!“

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or kopsahl@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.