Forest Grove School District Superintendent Dave Parker updates the school board during a meeting held Monday, August 10 2020. Screenshot from Youtube livestream

The Forest Grove School District announced that Neil Armstrong Middle School (NAMS), located on Forest Grove’s eastern edge, has joined Forest Grove High School in pausing in-person learning. 

“Our decision to pause in-person instruction is because we do not have sufficient staff to safely run classes at NAMS at this time,” FGSD Superintendent Dave Parker said Wednesday afternoon in a statement. 

The district previously closed the high school starting Tuesday, January 11 to Friday, January 21, citing the same reason. 

On Monday, January 10, district officials said it was hoped that the high school’s closure to in-person instruction—students have been switched to remote learning—would stave off further closures at other schools by allowing substitute teachers originally slated to cover teacher absences at the high school to cover absences elsewhere. 

It didn’t pan out. 

“We have worked to cover absences with substitutes, internal staff and district office staff, but have again reached the point where we can no longer safely conduct classes with the current available staff,” Parker said. 

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Of the 52 licensed staff usually at the school, 14, or 27% were absent at NAMS, with 27.5% of the student body absent. NAMS teaches grades 7 and 8, pulling students from all over the district, including students from Gales Creek. 

Even with moving unassigned high school staff to NAMS, nine teaching positions remained unfilled. At other schools in the district, 15 positions were also unfilled. 

Students at NAMS get the day off Thursday, December as teachers prepare to transition to online learning. They’ll resume education Friday, before pausing for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Monday. 

The full details of the schedule can be found here

The district hopes to resume instruction January 24 at the middle and high schools. 

Parker noted that estimates of the current coronavirus surge project case numbers to drop toward the end of January. 

During their regularly scheduled lunch times, students can pick up a cold lunch at the high school, Harvey Clarke, Echo Shaw, or NAMS. Students are asked to knock on the exterior door closest to the cafeteria. 

With the high school and middle school in digital learning, the district hopes that the elementary schools across the district can be kept open. 

“We will evaluate the status of each school daily and if staff absences dictate, we will notify you if it becomes necessary to close additional schools,” Parker said. He believes that there will be no need to make up the days students have lost to allow staff to prep for online instruction, noting that such missed days—snow days, for example— were already built into the academic calendar.

“We are frustrated that we now have to make another difficult decision to pause in-person instruction at the middle school. We view the trauma of the year and a half of students out of school as being extremely impactful socially, emotionally and academically. It remains our top priority to get students safely back into classrooms as soon as we have sufficient staff ready to return to in-person instruction,” the superintendent added.