Jordan Valley High School (Photo: Rachel Parsons/The Enterprise).

JORDAN VALLEY – While most of Malheur County schools have remained closed due to the Covid pandemic, students and staff in the Jordan Valley School District have been back at school since the beginning of the academic year.

According to those interviewed by the Enterprise, they wouldn’t have it any other way.

In general, Oregon state guidelines have made school reopenings contingent on county Covid metrics such as test positivity rate and case count.

But in the case of schools which are small and isolated, the state has made an exception. Jordan Valley, which has only 57 students and is situated in the remote southeast of Malheur County, fits the bill.

Like schools which have provided limited daily instruction, Jordan Valley has had to implement safety measures, such as social distancing and the use of face coverings. But Superintendent Rusty Bengoa said that despite Covid-related trepidations around in-person schooling which have dominated the conversation elsewhere in Oregon and the U.S., the decision to go in-person has been popular with locals.

“We were down seven students at the beginning of the year just due to the inconsistency in not knowing exactly what was going to happen in Oregon,” Bengoa said. “But in that time till now we’ve gained all the numbers back.”

“I personally wanted to avoid doing distance learning at all costs,” said Cassity Gluch, Jordan Valley High School student body president. “I had a very difficult time finishing out the school year last year with distance learning, so I wanted to learn in person.”

Bengoa said that aside from athletics, which have been restricted as in the rest of the state, the schools were operating with all their usual functions.

In addition, classes have begun to incorporate more digital resources, like the option to connect via Zoom or Google Classroom for students who may need to quarantine for Covid and would otherwise be missing class time.

“We've only had one instance of needing to quarantine a few students for several school days,” said Sheryl Douglass, high school social studies teacher. “It wasn't fun, but most of the students realized that keeping up with their assignments was important, and between Google Classroom, Zoom, email, and phone calls, I believe we were able to support those students.”

Gluch said that when she first found out she and her peers would be returning to classes, she was “ecstatic.”

“I personally was not worried about getting sick because I had been around almost all of my peers all summer and didn't get sick, so going to school with these same people really didn't worry me,” she said.

Douglass was similarly sanguine about the risk of getting Covid.

“It is a possibility but not a worry. Everyone is trying to adhere to the protocols, and the staff and the students are very compliant about mask-wearing and sanitizing,” she said.

News tip? Contact reporter Liliana Frankel at [email protected] or 267-981-5577.

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