District leaders start process of preparing for the 2021-22 school year and will base decisions on health guidelines.

COURTESY PHOTO: ESTACADA SCHOOL DISTRICT - Elementary school students learn in the classroom while remaining six feet apart.

After an unprecedented school year from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Estacada School District is determining what comes next.

Depending on the latest pandemic safety guidelines from the Oregon Department of Education and Clackamas County Public Health, the 2021-22 school year will use hybrid or fully in-person learning.

"There's definitely going to be a level of in-person learning," said Maggie Kelly, communications director for the Estacada School District. "It's here to stay, and we're excited about that."

If COVID-19 safety guidelines this fall are similar to what they are now, the district will likely start the year with a hybrid model, but if social distancing guidelines are relaxed, full in-person learning may be a possibility. Though ODE currently requires 6 feet of distance between students, Kelly noted that some research states that 3 feet of distance is safe.

"If it moved to three feet, we could have some level of full in-person learning," she said. "We're planning for hybrid, but we're also planning for full in-person."

The district is also exploring the possibility of continuing the four-day school week for the 2021-22 school year and will host a town hall meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 6, to seek community feedback. Along with being streamed on the district's digital platforms, there will be some opportunities for people to attend in person with COVID-19 safety precautions in place. The meeting's location will be determined and announced in the next few weeks.

"We don't want to make the decision with just a few people," Kelly said. "We want to invite our community members and people who have been impacted."

Guidelines from the Oregon Department of Education issued on March 15 lifted the requirement that students not come into contact with more than 100 other people each week. The 6-foot distancing requirement remains, and students must continue other safety measures such as mask wearing and hand washing.

COURTESY PHOTO: ESTACADA SCHOOL DISTRICT - Safety precautions such as hand sanitizer and face masks have been an important element of Estacada students returning to the classroom.

The new guidelines said schools may allow students a "face covering break" if they are distanced more than 6 feet from other students and it is for a "very limited time to support student learning."

The ODE revision also altered COVID-19 screening requirements for students. Elementary-grade students still will be checked for symptoms of the virus as they enter the school building. But kids in middle or high school now can be screened off-site before they come to school.

Oregon has about 175,000 students attending school in-person, the ODE announcement said.

Kelly noted that the removal of the 100-person limit did not significantly impact the district, since hybrid learning had already been implemented.

The Estacada School District began implementing hybrid learning at elementary schools in late January, and secondary students began doing so later in the year.

Across the district, approximately 20% of families have opted to continue with online learning.

"We're proud that we continue to be student-first and student-focused. We're offering an incredibly high quality comprehensive distance learning program, but a large group of our students need in-person support," Kelly said.

She added that it's also valuable that the district is already planning for the upcoming school year.

"We're one of the first school districts sitting on Zoom to discuss the next school year," she said. "We want to continue to over prepare, prepare early and be proactive to provide quality education during difficult times."

COURTESY PHOTO: ESTACADA SCHOOL DISTRICT - Students sit socially distanced in the Estacada High School commons.

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