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Some in-person learning will be allowed for special ed, hands-on classes and youths learning English.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Kids will be learning remotely in the fall, but a few exceptions will be allowed for limited in-class time for special education students, English learners and some hands-on classes.

The Oregon Department of Education issued new guidelines Tuesday, Aug. 11, that would allow some in-person learning for some students, including those who are in special education, learning English or in special circumstances such as career and technical education.

Most students still will be taught remotely using a "comprehensive distance learning" model in the fall.

"Limited in-person instruction is an option available to schools during Comprehensive Distance Learning," the state Education Department said in the Tuesday update, "and may be especially helpful to support younger students, to provide personalized instruction/assessment, or to allow for highly specialized learning such as CTE (career and technical education ) or science labs that require the use of equipment at the school."

Youths in special education and those learning English can be offered limited in-person schooling and that instruction should be focused on "skills that are difficult to teach remotely" such as basic literacy, language instruction and math development, the guidelines said.

There are strict criteria for bringing some students into a school building for this limited in-person instruction. Schools can bring in only a limited number of students and for no more than two consecutive hours. There have to have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 among the staff or students in the prior 14 days.

The grab bag of updates released Aug. 11 in several different publications, covered a wide variety of topics, including instruction for talented and gifted students, providing staff with additional planning time and details on taking attendance.

The newest guidelines said districts should pay special attention to students who didn't participate fully when schools abruptly closed in the spring due to the spread of the coronavirus.

Schools should provide specially tailored "learning opportunities for students who had limited or no access to instruction during the spring 2020 school closure," the latest guidance advised school districts. "This may look like assigning a learning mentor or coach, additional check-ins, supplemental learning supports, and instructional support for emergent bilingual students."

The spread of the novel coronavirus put school districts in a tough place. Districts want students back in school buildings, but also must guard against the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 among staff, students and the wider community. The virus already has killed more than 365 Oregonians and infected tens of thousands more.

Metro area school buildings closed abruptly in March and classes were taught remotely for the last few months of the 2019-20 school year, with students learning through hastily prepared online, distanced classes.

Some school districts had announced they planned a "hybrid" model for opening school in September 2020, with students learning in-person a couple of days per week and at home the other days.

But in late July, the state announced a strict set of opening metrics based on coronavirus levels in the population. Metro-area districts pivoted to teaching remotely for all students in the fall. Portland Public students won't be in classrooms until at least Nov. 5. Gresham-Barlow School District students won't go back to in-person classes until at least mid-October.

"Our priority is to return to in-person instruction as soon as it can be accomplished with stability and safety," the Oregon Department of Education said in announcing the Aug. 11 updates.

The update urges districts to help families plan student learning time. Families might have students in multiple grades and working caregivers. So educators should create daily or weekly lesson plans that can be sent out in advance, among other suggestions.

Educators must have regularly scheduled "office hours" so families can work with a teacher if a problem arises, the new guidance said.

As previously announced, under the new and improved distance learning model, attendance will be taken. That will be done by monitoring which students log in for "class" or communicate with the teacher via text, email or other methods. If students work on a weekend or holiday, that won't count as an official school day because a licensed teacher isn't available to them.

The guidelines note that schools must be mindful of the special needs of some students including students with disabilities, emergent bilingual students, children in migrant and farmworker families, students who are LGBTQ, students in foster care, kids who have an incarcerated loved one and unhoused students.

The Aug. 11 guideline updates also include more detailed information on how schools should handle an outbreak of coronavirus or what to do if someone is exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19 in a school.

The guidelines also note that masks are preferred over face shields for the limited in person-instruction or for when schools are allowed to have kids in a hybrid or in-person model.

The latest updates also give rural and remote schools more flexibility to offer in-person instruction.


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