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First district in East County to allow some kids back in schoolhouse, other districts waiting

PMG FILE PHOTO - Corbett School District is allowing 50 students to return to the classroom and hopes to add more if all goes well.

Corbett School District is cracking open the schoolhouse doors, just a little bit, allowing 50 students to come back to school and learn in the classroom. It is the only school district in East Multnomah County to get students back at their desks.

The so-called Limited In-Person Instruction will begin the week of Jan. 25, with a staggered start.

Corbett said, in a letter to parents, it decided to try the in-person teaching "since CLD (comprehensive distance learning) continues to be pushed out and some students continue to struggle."

Most students across Oregon have been learning remotely, online and with work packets, since March of 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic was taking hold across the country.

Corbett said in the letter to families, "There are very specific guidelines regarding how many students we can accommodate and how they are selected, but we can start with 50 students, separated into six 'cohorts.'"

Corbett interim Superintendent Dan Wold said, "We will use the gyms and commons for these sessions to allow for ventilation and distancing. And, since we want to be overcautious with student and staff safety, we are doing two sessions on each of three days, to allow for small cohorts on buses and adequate cleaning time between sessions."

The 50 students are being selected using an "objective scoring rubric to rank students who are struggling and create a priority list."

The families of eligible students are being contacted to see if they want their children to participate.

Meanwhile, the 1,200-student district is making arrangements for staffing, facilities needs, meal service and transportation.

If all goes "safely and successfully" with the first group of in-person students, "we are allowed to increase the number of students we serve, and we plan to do so if CDL continues to be pushed out," the letter said.

District leaders added that it believes it knows which students are having the most difficult time learning remotely, but said "there is a chance they missed something. If you believe your scholar should be considered and was not, please contact the site administrator, and they will be considered for the first expansion."

Other districts are waiting a while.

Gresham-Barlow School District has not set a date for students to return to the classroom. A few weeks ago, it allowed high school students to come to campus for outdoor athletic training, but not team practices.

In a letter to Centennial School District families sent out the weekend of Jan. 9-10, Superintendent Paul Coakley said "Multnomah County is far from meeting the advisory metric for moving to return to in-person instruction. Therefore, the Centennial School District will continue in Comprehensive Distance Learning for the foreseeable future."

Schools have been crafting complicated and detailed plans for bringing students back to buildings safely since the first months the school doors were closed. But, because of high and rising levels of COVID-19 cases, districts in the county have not been close to meeting the state's strict parameters to bring students back into buildings.

Then on Dec. 23, Gov. Kate Brown said districts could decide for themselves when it was safe to reopen schools. Districts would still have to adhere to the 164 safety guidelines to reopen. For example, students must have 35 square feet each in the classroom, masks are required, and 6 feet of social distancing must be maintained.

Plus, many teachers have balked at returning until school staff, including bus drivers, secretaries and others, can be vaccinated against the virus. The Oregon Health Authority said vaccinations of school employees won't begin until mid-February. And with the fitful start to the state's vaccination program, keeping that schedule is not certain. In addition, the process for testing for COVID-19 in schools is unclear.

Corbett's in-person classes will be staffed by volunteer teachers, counselors, administrators and aids, Wold said.

The Oregon Department of Education plans to issue additional COVID-19 and reopening information for schools on Jan. 19 and districts across the state are waiting to see that guidance.

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