Local schools plan for fall reopening
Educational leaders at all levels in Oregon agree on one thing: school is going to look different next year.
The Oregon Department of Education on June 10 released guidance, called "Ready Schools, Safe Learners," to help schools safely reopen in the fall.
Under the guidance, students must stay six feet apart and there must be 35 square feet per student, staff will wear masks and do plenty of sanitizing, and field trips and other activities will be modified, postponed or canceled.
But exactly how it all looks is up to each school district. ODE charged school districts with developing a localized "Operational Blueprint for Reentry" due by Aug. 15 that must address eight elements including public health protocols, equity, instruction and family and community engagement.
The blueprints also must include a decision about whether instruction will take place onsite, through distance learning or a mix of both; and they must include contingency plans in case of a flare-up, which might mean returning to remote learning for all students or modifying the school year.
Leaders at Colton, Molalla River and Canby School Districts are all in the process of developing their plans.
At Colton, teams of staff members — including teachers, the school nurse, bus drivers and custodians — are developing a hybrid model of learning for the fall, according to a June 11 letter from Superintendent Koreen Barreras-Brown to families.
This means there will be some in-person instruction and some distance/online instruction.
"The health and safety of our students, staff and families are at the forefront of our thinking," Barreras-Brown said in the letter. "This includes: connections, relationships, physical, social, emotional and mental health."
Teachers have been reaching out to families to find out how distance learning went as a way to inform the hybrid model.
The blueprint is not yet finished, but according to Barreras-Brown the leadership team is meeting weekly to plan processes such as cohorting, master scheduling, transitions, entry, exit, recess, lunch and more.
"As an educator, I am getting the opportunity to be a part of something that has never been done before. How exciting is that?" said Brittney Herbison, fourth grade teacher at Colton Elementary school. "We all know that reentry into schools is going to look vastly different than what we are used to, but for the first time we are getting the chance to really put students' social, emotional and safety needs first."
The custodial staff will work with educators to ensure surfaces are sanitized including playground equipment, learning spaces and other highly used surfaces.
Barreras-Brown said school will include recess, PE, music, electives, movement and breaks.
"With every decision we make, we're asking, 'What's best for kids?' " said Matt Jumago, a district teacher on special assignment.
Once a draft plan is complete, leaders will share it with the superintendent's advisory council, the community and the school board. Barreras-Brown said staff hopes to have a plan to share by the end of June.
Molalla River School District, too, is developing a blueprint for hybrid learning in the fall, based on feedback from families and with student well-being as the focus, according to Superintendent Tony Mann.
The planning teams in Molalla are made up of teachers, support staff and administrators.
"These teacher leaders and support staff leaders are working with their principals to innovate, putting kids' well-being — socially, emotionally and physically — as the first filter for decision-making," Mann said.
The school district heard from more than 300 families to help inform decisions for the fall. A survey is still open at bit.ly/3fBeLEw.
While planning teams are looking at a hybrid model, Mann was clear that the blueprint will involve as much in-person instruction as possible.
"The more we can have kids in brick-and-mortar schools the better," Mann said. "That's better for kids. That's better for families."
No decisions have yet been made, but the teams are analyzing every square foot of space in the school buildings, considering health and safety protocols, thinking about instructional hours and more.
"It's almost like every waking minute, we have people working to envision the promise of an exceptional school year next year," Mann said, "regardless of what comes at us from the outside."
The district will again seek community feedback on the plan, Mann said, before the July 9 school board meeting.
Canby School District is working on its plan, the details of which have not yet been released.
"Canby School District is developing school reentry plans for the 2020-21 school year in coordination with the guidance from the Oregon Department of Education and local health authorities," said Autumn Foster, district spokesperson. "The planning process will involve input from multiple stakeholder groups."
To help with decision-making, the district has sent out a survey for parents and students, available online at surveymonkey.com/r/P8Y5CDX.
According to Foster, more information will be available in coming weeks as the process moves forward.
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