It’s no surprise that since the pandemic hit, school’s have been trying to get students back in the classroom. For McMinnville School District, schools have been closed since Mar. 13 when Oregon went into lockdown and quarantine. The school district has been trying to get students back into schools amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, and aside from a hybrid-model planned for the fall of 2020 and some limited in-person instruction in certain cases, those attempts have been unsuccessful. 

It looks as though that may be changing. McMinnville School District and the McMinnville Educators Association have come to an agreement that will allow kids to go back to school safely. The Memorandum of Agreement was signed Jan. 19 after much negotiation between the two groups.

The agreement allows for students across all grades K-12 to go to school using a hybrid schedule so that not all students will be in the building at one time or every day. 

A statement called “McMinnville School District and Educators Reach Mutual Agreement on School Reopening Plans” said, “The agreement will help guide the transition from Comprehensive Distance Learning (CDL) to a “Hybrid” model where students attend school with a blend of on-site and at-home learning.”

As for the specifics of the model and how many children would be allowed in the school buildings at one time, Adam Gray, President of the McMinnville Educators Association (teacher’s union) and McMinnville High School teacher, said that the number would be determined by the size of a school and its population.

“This is a school by school decision. Some schools are much smaller, we’re really lucky at the high school to have so much space,” said Gray. 

In addition, talking about per classroom, Gray said “We follow the state mandates regarding students in a class/social distancing, so it depends what the state says. My gut is my classes will be about 14 students, but by now that’s just a guess.”

Aside from class size and student population size, the Memorandum of Agreement said, “The District will convert two (2) student contact days to be non-student contact days for staff who are required to transition from CDL to in-person instruction in order for professional educators to prepare their classroom for in building instruction.”

Gray also mentioned safety measures that act to keep the students and staff protected. Guidelines follow regulations and recommendations by Oregon Department of Education (ODE) and Oregon Health Authority (OHA).

There is also no set date for this hybrid model to begin. Gray said, “the dates for in-person learning vary, it could be as early as April, it could be later, it could next school year. Elementary would start first…”

The district and the union have not set a concrete date for schools to reopen because they are waiting for teachers and district staff to be vaccinated. Teachers were eligible to get vaccines starting the 25th and the Memorandum of Agreement outlines teacher vaccination as a requirement for in-person learning. 

Said Gray, “The biggest win, and the one I’m most proud of, is that every educator will have an opportunity to have both vaccinations before students can come back in the building. We are the first district in the state of Oregon to agree to that.” 

According to Gray, vaccines were a must-have to allow teachers and other staff into the building. It was a main goal of the Education Association going into negotiations.

Though teachers are currently eligible for the vaccine, vaccine distribution could take a while. Gray said that this was accounted for during the negotiations. Said Gray, “If the vaccine is halted or slowed down, that means the reopening process will take longer. As of last week, I know the district’s goal is the middle of February.”

As Gray mentioned, the district’s goal for reopening is mid-February but part of the reason there is no set date for reopening is to make sure teachers have had a chance to get both shots of a COVID vaccine.

Gray adds, “I know of several co-workers who have been vaccinated.”

Negotiations between the union and the district have been going on for some time. In addition to this agreement regarding comprehensive distance learning and limited in-person instruction, for which negotiations have been happening since summer, the union and district are also in re-negotiations of the McMinnville Education Association’s contract which expired in 2020. 

The agreement put out by the district quoted McMinnville Educators Association Bargaining Char, Erik Svec as having said, “…got off to a difficult start. But in the end it was a collaboration between the district and educators, and a common goal of providing students with the best education possible while keeping our schools safe…”

Gray said that the union and the district had the same goal: get students back in the classroom and do it safely. However, the groups had different ideas on who to approach that common goal. “The way I look at it, both the union and the district have the same goal, but look at it slightly different. We all want to go back safely, we all want to see our students, we all want to resume school,” said Gray.

Compromises were made and negotiations were not rushed. In the end, both the union and district seem pleased with the agreement that was reached. “In any negotiation there are compromises, but I am very happy with the meetings between the McEA and the district. I feel we have made some really headway with these discussions,” said Gray.

In the announcement put out by the district on the Memorandum of Agreement it said that McMinnville School District SuperIntendent, Maryalice Russel was also happy with the agreement. 

Overall, the union and district want students back in the classroom. The two groups want to do it safely and with vaccines now available and COVID cases for Oregon down, they feel now is the time to do it. 

Gray said, “The students are definitely the number one concern of teachers. Every teacher I know, including myself, loses sleep over worrying about our kids. Teachers are going above and beyond to safely provide support, including home visits, food donations, limited in person instruction. Of course, in person instruction is very important, kids coming back into the building is crucial. But it has to be done safely. We have to think of our community, our teachers, our students.”

There are safety measures and social distancing protocols in place should schools need to close again and should COVID cases in Yamhill County rise. Gray said, “our safety language in the MOA for teachers is so crucial. These teachers are risking their lives. Luckily, there are state guidance rules in place if the schools have to shut down if Covid breaks out again.” 

In the Memorandum of Agreement the district outlines what will happen if a COVID case is confirmed within a school and if teachers need to quarantine.

Bruin Magazine has reached out to the district for comment, but they have not gotten back to us.