KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — Both Klamath County and Klamath Falls City Schools will push forward with plans for a return to in-person learning despite liability concerns that provoked an emergency meeting on Thursday night.
The joint meeting on Thursday stemmed from concerns that in-person learning would leave the districts open to legal risk, as COVID-19 liability protection passed by the Oregon legislature does not cover schools that eschew state coronavirus metrics.
Ultimately, the boards decided that in-person learning was worth the risk.
“Our local public health is part of a network including Oregon Health Authority, Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization,” said KCSD superintendent Glen Szymoniak. “Klamath County Public Health is the only organization with the expertise and authority to reliably direct our decisions in this pandemic.”
Paul Hillyer, superintendent of Klamath Falls City Schools, also supported returning students to classrooms.
“The families and students feel like ping pong balls being bounced back and forth. It is wearying,” he said. “I really do believe that we are ready to have our students return in person. The work has been done.”
According to KCSD, 500 people attended Thursday's meeting which included three hours of presentations and testimony before the matter went to a vote. The vote, when it came, was unanimous.
KCSD board chair Steve Lowell said that failure rates at "one of the district's larger high schools" rose from 8 percent in the fall of 2019 to 35 percent in the most recent grading period.
“That to me is not an education,” Lowell said. “Students are in trouble. Students need to be safe. They need to be with their school community . . . I also know that when we opened up our schools, we were successful. I have to keep thinking over and over, it’s what’s best for kids.”
KFCS board chair Mychal Amos acknowledged that it was a difficult decision to make.
“I don’t think we’re going to be right on this one," Amos said. "There’s going to be a group of people who are going to be disappointed.”
Of 250 written comments submitted, KCSD said that 215 supported reopening "as soon as possible." 23 were concerned and wanted a delay.
With the unanimous vote in favor of returning to in-person learning, that process will begin on Monday, January 11. Both districts are offering remote options for families who do not want their students back in the classroom.