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Crook County School District plans to open schools on Sept. 8 with variety of in-class and online options

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Crook County School District plans to open schools on Sept. 8 with variety of in-class and online options.

A new change in state guidelines means that local students are required to wear masks in school buildings starting this fall.

But so far, no other changes have been announced since the end of last school year and local educators still expect to start the 2020-21 school year on time.

On Wednesday, Gov. Kate Brown announced several preventative measures that took effect Friday and are intended to stem the rising number of COVID-19 coronavirus cases in Oregon. She was accompanied by Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state epidemiologist.

"The COVID-19 virus is beginning to spread too quickly throughout Oregon, so it's time for further actions to stop the spread of this disease," Brown said "Keep in mind that this is not an on-or-off switch. This disease is something that, for the time being, we must learn to live with. When we see the numbers rise, we must respond in turn."

One key change that schools will face is children age 5 and older must wear face coverings while in indoor public spaces and outdoors when they cannot maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet. Coverings are still recommended, but not required, for children ages 2-5. This requirement will apply in all school settings. Coverings are also required indoors in gyms, even while exercising, and outdoors when distancing cannot be maintained.

When the 2019-20 school year concluded in early June, the local school district reached out to families as educators developed plans for the start of the 2020-21 year. A survey showed that some families are interested in learning more about alternative learning options. This could include remaining fully online at home or a combination of learning opportunities that provide families with greater flexibility and choice.

"The old education model is changing, and we need to proactively come up with different ways of serving families. We're developing a menu of options next year for students who may not thrive well in the traditional school setting," explained Superintendent Dr. Sara Johnson.

Crook County High School already offers an online option that is self-paced and allows students to develop their own schedule and access school athletics and other activities. Assistant Superintendent Dr. Joel Hoff, who heads up school improvement efforts, said that the goal of the school district is to build on that foundation and offer even more options to families with students in elementary, middle, and high school.

"We plan to work with families with students in all grade levels and tailor an experience that's unique to each individual child," he added. "That could include going to school in the morning and coming home and working online in the afternoon or it could mean your child remains fully online."

At a June school board meeting, the district presented several options to school board members about contingency plans in case there are any changes. Johnson said that while opening in the fall is the priority, the district is planning ahead in case there's a spike in COVID-19 cases or if the governor's office directs otherwise.

Following the governor's Wednesday announcement, Johnson sent an email to parents throughout the district, addressing the new mask requirement and plans for the rest of the summer and subsequent school year.

"We are aware that many of you have expressed a high level of concern about facemasks, so Crook County School District will offer families the choice of in-person classes, hybrid, or fully online options for all grade levels," she stated. "The information is on our website, including a registration form to sign up for the hybrid or online options."

Johnson went on to note that the district recognizes "the challenge of requiring students to wear masks during the school day and the difficulty of mandating their use."

"Our goal is to make sure our response to students is both gentle and understanding," she said. "We know the facemask requirement isn't ideal, but hopefully it will allow us to keep our doors open and allow students in the classrooms this fall."

Johnson went on to state that the Oregon Schools Activities Association (OSAA) came out with new recommendations Wednesday and that the district will soon provide families with updates on the impact to Crook County sports programs.

"Communications is a high priority for us as we move closer to the new school year," she said, highlighting several scheduled communication efforts planned for the rest of the summer. They include live Fireside Chats on Facebook and Zoom every Friday, weekly emails with the latest information and updated information on social media and the district website.

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