As smoke chokes the Willamette Valley from the Holiday Farm Fire currently spanning 156,000 acres straddling the McKenzie River, Eugene and Springfield’s three K-12 school districts decided to push the first day of school to Monday, Sept. 21.
Classes were set to begin on Sept. 14, but in an emergency Sept. 10 board meeting, Eugene’s 4J School District Interim Superintendent Cydney Vandercar said that would not be possible. The district’s instructional model for remote education dictates that all students must have access to technology before the start of the term to attend their online courses and to complete coursework — but all elementary and some middle and high school students, nearly 8,000 kids, never received their devices at outdoor pickup locations because of the smoke.
Air quality conditions have been too hazardous for these tech pick-ups to occur since historic winds, dryness and climate change conditions caused the Holiday Farm Fire on Monday night. The Lane Regional Air Protection Agency lists Eugene-Springfield’s air quality at 390 on Sept. 11, qualifying it as “hazardous” — the agency’s air quality meter doesn’t even go past 300.
As of Sept. 11, the Bethel School District, covering most of West Eugene and out west to Fern Ridge Reservoir, had distributed over 2,800 Chromebooks to students, which is about half of Bethel’s students, but will continue passing them out to students who need them when conditions improve.
Springfield Public Schools, the closest district to the fire, will also need an extra week to distribute technology to its students. In a statement online from the school district, staff said “the Holiday Farm Fire has already impacted large portions of our district staff, students and their families, indirectly affecting us all as we care for, worry for and work to support our family, friends and neighbors,” the statement added that the district has been directly providing resources for relief efforts.
SPS will still have in-person education for K-3 on a staggered basis, now all pushed one week back. K-1 will begin on Sept. 21, second grade on Sept. 28 and third grade on Oct. 5, as health conditions allow, according to the statement.
Currently, no districts have decided on how and when to make up all five lost school days. 4J board members moved one day to President’s Day in February and another to a planning and professional development day in March, with the second trimester beginning on Dec. 14, a week later than scheduled. Springfield and 4J will still keep June 17 as the last day of classes.
All three school districts will be providing meal services to all students under 18, despite smoky conditions. The location and times for grab and go lunches can be found on each district’s websites: 4J, Bethel and Springfield.