Banks, CORONAVIRUS, School

Banks School District plans for school reopening, but fate of school sports uncertain

Students in Banks on Main Street Jan. 22. Photo: Chas Hundley

With a push by Governor Kate Brown for some students to be back in class, the Banks School District is planning for some form of return to in-person education. Some details remain undecided, in flux or dependent on COVID-19 metrics, and the fate of school sports remains uncertain.

Parents and students took to the streets in Banks twice in January to push for in-person learning and for a return to some form of school athletics, gathering in front of district offices on Monday, Jan. 11 and on Main Street on Friday, Jan. 22 to ask Gov. Brown to allow student athletes to resume sports. 

In a letter to the district issued on Thursday, Jan. 28, Banks School District Superintendent Jeff Leo laid out the school’s plans for reopening. 

“It is with great excitement that I believe we have come to the crossroads of this difficult year,” Leo wrote. 

“With our staff having the opportunity to be vaccinated in the coming weeks, we are now ready to move forward with our plans of returning to in-person learning,” he said. 

Under Leo’s timeline, March 8 could see grades K – 2 resume in-person learning under the district’s hybrid model — some days onsite, some days distance learning — with grades 3 – 5 starting onsite on March 15, while Banks Middles School and Banks High School students would have orientation half days from March 8 through March 19. By March 29, all grades would have full days, but hours have yet to be determined. 

Families that so choose could continue their child’s education under the existing comprehensive distance learning model. 

“As always, I have to say that this is a tentative plan and the situation is fluid. I do not expect any major changes, but there are always possibilities of changes,” Leo said.

Students and demonstrators in Banks on Main Street Jan. 22. Photo: Chas Hundley

More than 70 students, parents, and community members from Banks and Forest Grove gathered in Banks on Friday, Jan. 22 to plead their case to Governor Kate Brown  for reopening sports. Parker Vanderzanden, a sophomore at Banks High School, would like to be playing his preferred sport of soccer.

“We want to have that fun, that entertainment that sports brings us. We have a lot of extra time now, we don’t know what to do with it,” he said as the students lining Main Street broke into chants. “Let us play! Let us play! Let us play!” 

Students in Banks on Main Street Jan. 22. Left: Parker Vanderzanden. Photo: Chas Hundley

“Like me, I’m just sitting around. I’ve started gaining a habit for puzzles,” Vanderzanden explained, “because I’ve had nothing to do.”

Vanderzanden would like to see sports open before the start of the next school year, whether that takes time or can happen right away. 

Hayden Rockwell, a junior at Banks High School and a softball player was also present at the rally with some of her team members. 

Rockwell noted that as a junior, she’s an upperclassman with little time remaining at high school. “Everyone says that you gotta enjoy your high school years. And by playing sports, I feel like it’s the best way to connect as a community, as a school, with this whole Corona situation going on, and I just think it will bring us all together to fight this,” she said. 

Hayley Rockwell. Photo: Chas Hundley

“I would just like to see sports at least try to happen. Maybe like a few practices, a few games. Even like the bare minimum is the best, just to get us all out here and try to make the best situation with online learning,” Rockwell said. 

Joe Buliga, a senior, noted trends facing students, including an uptick in depression and suicides during the pandemic.

“We’re out here because we’re tired, we’re fed up, we want to be back, you know, we want to be back in school to start off with. But we also want to play sports, because, especially in a community like Banks, we’re so sport-oriented,” he said.

Joe Buliga. Photo: Chas Hundley

“We have students failing at a higher rate, we have suicides also at a higher rate, depression at a higher rate, there’s around 30 other states that are open that can play sports, why not us?”

Buliga laid the blame at the feet of politicians, and said that the people needed to be heard. “We have a voice, and we’re using it, and that’s what we’re doing today.” 

Jack Walker talked about the toll not being in school has taken on him.

“I’m out here today, just trying to spread the news that not being in school, and not having athletics as a high schooler has been the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through in my life,” Walker said. The Banks High School senior listed the experience of not seeing schoolmates and teachers in the halls, at practice, and elsewhere. 

Jack Walker. Photo: Chas Hundley

“I don’t see people I used to see all the time and it’s definitely taking a toll on my body and my mental health. I’d say, honestly, before sports, let’s get in school. Like, sports can be besides the point. Being in school would give us structure back in life, it would give us the necessities we need to be successful as young adults going into our last year of high school where we’re going to vanish off,” Walker said, adding that his plans after high school include likely joining the U.S. Air Force. 

Tyler Exline, a senior who recently announced his intention to play for Eastern Oregon University next year, noted his frustration with the uncertainty. 

“It’s frustrating, you know, it’s been ten and a half months of just “maybe,” dragging us along, and I think a lot of us are really tired of it and fed up,” Exline said. “I think there’s a lot more people that are fed up with it, but they just don’t have any hope.” 

Tyler Exline. Photo: Chas Hundley

Exline said that in the past week and a half, he’s talked to between 100 and 150 of his fellow students and that at least 75 of his classmates have lost hope that change could be coming. 

“It feels like our governor does not care about us, about what we want to do, and about our senior years. It’s just frustrating, you work your butts off for 12 years of your life to get to this point, and then to have nothing and to not have a season, or a chance to walk through the halls again or to possibly never step foot on that field with my brothers on a Friday night, you know, it’s just – it’s sad. It really is sad.” 

Exline said he understands that the COVID-19 metrics could make returning to school difficult, but he asks that some form of sports be allowed. 

“All I ask for is a season, whether that’s one game, one quarter, one half, just even a play. That’s all I want. And I think that’s what all these guys want is one last chance to play together.”

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Chas Hundley is the editor of the Banks Post and sister news publications the Gales Creek Journal and the Salmonberry Magazine. He grew up in Gales Creek and has a cat.

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