BLUE RIVER, Ore. -- Navigating school under the COVID-19 pandemic is something classrooms around the country coped with in 2020. But the McKenzie School District was hit with a double whammy: the pandemic and the Holiday Farm Fire.
Superintendent and principal Lane Tompkins said one of the major concerns was having to find a way to do online learning when power lines had been destroyed.
"About this time last year, we were getting ready to open up school but in distance learning, but then the fires happened," Tompkins said. "How do you get kids in school online when all of the area communications are gone?"
Tompkins said the aftermath of the fires had the most implications.
"Regardless of whether they lost their homes or not, they were all impacted," Tompkins said. "At one point, we were all one evacuation notice."
Tompkins said with the help of community partners, they were able to get back to partial in-person learning by March 2021.
On Sept. 8, students, teachers and staff are going back to classrooms under normal schedules in the district. Tompkins said he hopes the worst is behind them.
"I'm hoping it looks like a lot like it usually does," Tompkins said. "Besides masking, spacing and routines we ended the school year with. I know we're just really looking forward to getting to connect with kids."
Due to the wildfires, Tompkins said K-12 student enrollment dropped from about 220 students to 190 students. But he said teachers and staff are ready to welcome those who are returning.
"The first couple of weeks is really going to be focused on building relationships," Tompkins said. "I think the most important thing is if you need anything, if you need support, just let us know. We'd love to figure out ways to make this school year a success."
Tompkins said despite nearly a third of staff losing their homes due to the fires, they were the first ones to come back to school and help.
"The amazing thing is that a lot of the times the folks who were doing a lot of the heavy lifting, they keep the momentum of the year going," Tompkins said. "Staff have always been on board and always looking for other ways to help."
Tompkins said the everchanging pandemic, combined with picking up the pieces after the fires, is a constant learning process but they are hopeful this next school season will be successful.
School will begin at 8 a.m.