SALEM, OR (KPTV) - The Oregon Department of Education released updated state guidelines for the new school year on Tuesday.
The director of the ODE, administrators, and school health experts from around the state joined a webinar to discuss some of them.
The guidance allows schools to implement three instructional models of learning: on-site, distance or hybrid, and a combination of the two.
The Lake Oswego School District is looking at having elementary school kids physically at school five days a week. For middle and high schoolers, they may go the hybrid route, alternating their days of on-site learning. Additionally, the district is working on an online option for students who need that.
The Beaverton School District says students will have the option of either the hybrid model or all online.
But take, for example, the schools in more rural counties like Umatilla. The superintendent, Heidi Sipe, says while they are still seeking information from parents, they know they want students to be on site as much as possible.
“One hundred percent of students K-12 in our district received free meals in our school district for breakfast and lunch each day, and so we know that poverty is a huge factor in our community,” Sipe said. “We also know that linguistic diversity is a priority in our school district and we didn’t want to lose our dual language programs or our native language literacy programs, and those are very difficult to administer through an online-only environment.”
For grades K-5 in the Umatilla School District, the day will look fairly normal, except students will eat lunch in their classrooms. For grades 6-12, students will stay with a teacher Monday through Thursday while still receiving virtual instruction from their other teachers.
On Friday, students across all grades will have intervention time if they’re in need of additional help, and online classes for students at or above grade level.
Districts across the state are still working to gain feedback from staff and families. Solidified school plans are expected in the coming weeks.
Before opening, every school must demonstrate to their community it can operate while keeping their staff, students and, in turn, families safe.
By Aug. 15 or prior to the beginning of the school year if that’s earlier, every school must develop an Operational Blueprint for Reentry, a thorough plan of how a school will address elements like public health protocols, operations and equity.
Schools will submit the Operational Blueprint for Reentry to their local school board, then to the local public health authority, which will work with the individual school throughout the year to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19.
The last step is for the blueprint to be posted on the school and district websites and to be submitted to the ODE. Charter and private schools have similar expectations.
“None of us have done this before…none of us in this generation have delivered education in a way that we had to focus so heavily on protecting the health of our students, our staff members, and the families that they return to each day,” said Colt Gill, the director of the ODE. “We have that responsibility on our shoulders, as well as a responsibility to ensure an equitable and high quality education for our students.”
Some of the updates to the working framework include encouraging staff to wear clear plastic face shields because they enable students to see faces and better understand instruction.
The ODE also clarified recommendations around keeping students healthy, like requiring them to wash their hands for 20 seconds after using the restroom, and doing the same or using sanitizer before and after using playground equipment and eating a meal.
The guidance, which is called Ready Schools, Safe Learners and was first released earlier this month, is likely to continue to evolve in the coming weeks as school officials get input from the community and also track what the virus is doing and what restrictions Oregon is under.
Throughout this creation of state guidance, there is a big problem officials have been struggling to solve, and it’s not one in the classroom. Gill says student transportation has been their biggest challenge so far.
Creating physical distancing of at least six feet on a bus means lowering a capacity of more than 80 students, for example, down to 15 or less.
“We are continuing to work with the OHA, bringing to them the ideas like wearing masks or other provisions that could happen in a bus to the epidemiologist team, the senior health advisors, and seeing if we could come up with other workarounds,” Gill said. “The majority of school buses in Oregon right now tend to have higher seat backs than public transportation does and students tend to be shorter, so there may be opportunities to allow more students on buses because there is a physical barrier between seats for most students.”
In addition to physical distancing, frequent cleaning and screening on buses is required in the new guidance.
The next guidance update is expected on July 21. There will be another webinar to break down the latest strategies and plans for school openings then.
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