TILLAMOOK COUNTY, OR (KPTV) - Two school districts in Tillamook County are delaying the start of the in-person school year because of surging COVID-19 cases. 

COVID-19 is "spreading like wildfire among the unvaccinated in our community," Tillamook County Commissioners said in a statement last week.

The coastal county is seeing more new positive cases in the past few weeks than it recorded in the entire first 10 months of the pandemic. Deaths are spiking, too.

"For the first 18 months of the pandemic, we had five local deaths due to COVID-19. In the past week, we more than doubled the number of COVID deaths in Tillamook County, from five to eleven," the commissioners' statement said. 

On the verge of back-to-school, school districts in the county are scrambling to change plans in order to keep students, staff and others in the community safe.

"You’re looking forward to getting back to normal and all of a sudden things are changing and you realize things are not getting back to normal," Nestucca Valley High School Principal Ken Richwine said.

Nestucca Valley School District is delaying the start of classes one week, from September 7 to September 13. Richwine hopes that will prevent the district from turning back to virtual learning, telling FOX 12 that the majority of his teachers have told him they'd rather teach students face-to-face.

"They want the kids back in the building and that's the goal, that's the overwhelming message that I hear," Richwine said.

District officials say the delay will hopefully allow the COVID peak to subside and give staff more time to prepare protocols and a framework for distance learning if it becomes necessary.

In a letter to families last week, Superintendent Misty Wharton said a number of staff members have COVID-19 and are in quarantine, and there are also known active cases among students. Wharton said the district canceled all in-person meetings a couple weeks ago when it became clear that the delta variant was surging through the community.

Neah-Kah-Nie School District also announced Monday it is pushing back the start of classes one week, along with going back to distance learning. The delay in the start of the year is to give staff and teachers more time to reorganize for virtual teaching.

"I know that this is definitely going to be hard for a lot of families, but at this point I don’t know what else could’ve been done," Rockaway Beach daycare provider Tabitha Meyer told FOX 12.

Meyer says most of the kids she watches are in Neah-Kah-Nie schools, so she supports the switch to distance learning to get the community through the spike in cases.

"I was nervous because I knew that I was going to have so many possible exposures with kids in three out of the four buildings," Meyer said.

In a post on Facebook, Neah-Kah-Nie Superintendent Paul Erlebach said "school district administrators met with Tillamook County Health Department officials last Friday to review COVID case counts and trend data. The data is alarming."

While many parents support the district's decision to go virtual, not everyone is pleased.

One parent on Facebook said she thinks students should still go back to in-person learning, despite the COVID trends. A Neah-Kah-Nie High School senior said she was disappointed with the decision because her grades took a hit last year with distance learning.

Another frustrated parent told FOX 12 he wishes the district could've made the call earlier to give families more time to prepare.

Tillamook County schools delaying start of classes, preparing for distance learning

Image: KPTV

FOX 12 reached out to the Tillamook School District- the largest in the county- but didn't hear back Monday night.

Copyright 2021 KPTV-KPDX Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved. 


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