On Jan. 5, 2022, Cardinal Times reporters Cate Bikales and Xander Levine sat down with Lincoln High School Principal Peyton Chapman to discuss COVID-19 related questions and concerns. As students have returned from winter break, the district has seen a mass rise in positive cases, which are documented on the COVID-19 Dashboard.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Do you have any updates on what the next few weeks are going to look like?
I don’t have any updates at the moment. Every day, I start my day with a text from my supervisor saying, “How are you guys doing with subs?” And then I check in and make sure we have enough subs for the day. The first day back from break, we had the most need for subs and then Wednesday we only had three. I think the need for subs is coming down from the post-holiday travel and we had the highest number across the district on Monday partially because people’s flights got canceled and they couldn’t get home. So, it’s not all COVID. After checking in about subs, we then check student attendance. On Monday and Tuesday, 15% of our students were absent. The two days before winter break, we were at 7% and 8% absence. Generally, absences are anywhere between 2% and 5%. So, some of those absences probably came from people leaving early for break, or people coming back late from break, but, you know, we went from 7-8% to 15%. As of Tuesday, we know of about 33 cases, which is still not a huge number of cases. We don’t have many teachers in quarantine.
Is lunch going to change due to the increase in COVID cases?
I think everybody has different comfort levels. If you’re vaccinated and boosted and you’re sitting with people that are in your bubble anyway, for a lot of students, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense to eat outside. We’re trying to open up as much space as possible in the auditorium and other places to spread people out. But if someone is living with someone who is unvaccinated or someone who is immunocompromised, or they’re just nervous about the virus, then I think yes, you should find a quiet place to eat by yourself or you should eat outside. So far, we haven’t seen the spread of COVID in school. We saw it at a party. So I think we can still reduce the cases without a 100% shutdown in school, and without not allowing eating inside.
Are you concerned about the chances of Lincoln going online? Do you think it’s likely Lincoln will go online?
My preference is that we keep school open in person. My goal at the beginning of the year was to get through September. Now, my goal is to get through February. If we do, I’ll feel pretty confident that we can have things like graduation and at least the senior award assembly. It’s my goal to have one last assembly in the Cardinal Coliseum (gym) before the senior class graduates and we move to the new school. Each day, I’m happy that we’re still open and that we have been able to staff our school. We’ve had at most six unfilled subs, but there were never administrators who couldn’t cover classes and teachers that couldn’t cover during their prep periods. For now, if we needed to, we could combine classes or send a class to the library. But if we got to 30 teachers who were not here, I think we would have to shift to remote learning, unless we could fill all 30 subs, but that would mean that no other schools need subbing [because all subs come from one large “sub pool” shared by Portland Public Schools (PPS)]. So, it’s kind of a day-by-day thing, but as long as our teachers and their families stay healthy, I think we have a pretty good shot at getting through this. [If schools were to close], I’ve heard that it would be up to the individual school—not the district as a whole—to decide whether or not to stay open.
If Lincoln were to go remote, would the schedule be similar to last year?
That would have to be negotiated with our labor partners. So, if we go remote, we’d have to be on the schedule we have right now (four 90-minute periods from 8:25 a.m. to 3:35 p.m. each day) unless it were bargained. That’s just another reason why I want to stay in person—because all that time it takes to bargain takes away time and resources from focusing on our core learning.
In the weeks leading up to winter break, students and families were receiving notices through email of positive onsite cases at Lincoln. Why have we not been receiving those emails since coming back from the break?
[The information I use to send out emails of positive onsite cases at Lincoln comes from the county]. I check my email every 30 minutes to see if the reports have been sent to me, but there’s a [backlog] right now. The ones that are getting processed are from all the people who haven’t been on campus and who called and said, “I’m not coming to school because I have COVID.” As of today, we haven’t gotten the information regarding any Monday or Tuesday students who were onsite. After we get the information from the county, we just have to figure out who to send [the exposure emails to]. And that’s what [Business Manager] Jill Ross and Nurse Mary Johnson do. They contact trace and ask the teachers for seating charts, and then we put together that list and send out the emails. I’m really thankful for Nurse Mary. The first 10 years that I worked here, we did not have a full time school nurse. I don’t know what we would do today without one. Other schools have community-based health clinics, which have a whole staff that’s funded by the county and provide primary care, health screenings, vaccinations, etc., but we don’t. If we don’t have a health clinic, and we didn’t have a full time school nurse, I think this time would have been even harder than it is right now. I think every school needs to have a [full-time] school nurse and a community-based health clinic onsite that students, families and the community can use.
What message do you have for students who are worried about coming to school because they think they’re going to contract COVID-19?
Wear KN95 masks, eat apart from others. Hand washing and social distancing is still really important. It’s the same kind of thing you’re doing when you go to the grocery store or anywhere—you’re just kind of balancing the importance of in-person schooling and mental health and staying connected, versus trying to do your very best to avoid contracting COVID. Also, if you can, get vaccinated, get vaccinated, get vaccinated! People who are vaccinated and boosted are generally not suffering the same way that people who aren’t vaccinated are.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
My heart goes out to young people. I know some college students who are in tears wondering if they’re going to go back in person or if they are going to have to be online again. We all have a certain amount of patience for struggle. [Your life right now] is so different from anything I ever had to worry about as a kid. So, my heart just goes out to you all.