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Going back to in-person learning is the subject of video by East County school districts

COURTESY PHOTO: SCHOOL DISTRICTS - Students must have 35 square feet of space each in order to safely come back to school buildings, Oregon agencies have mandated.

The three big East Multnomah County school districts are collaborating on a video about reopening school buildings so families can get a feel for what that might look like.

Gresham-Barlow, Reynolds and Centennial school districts recruited a gaggle of students from different schools and filmed them going through a "typical" day in buildings in the new pandemic era of education. The student "actors" rode the bus, were screened and entered the building and attended class.

The districts posted a few still photos of the filming on their Facebook pages and got a torrent of comments from varied perspectives.

"My kids will not be returning to in-person learning as long as masks have to be worn to stay safe," said one commenter.

People pointed out problems they spied in photos. Students on the busses were separated, but was the spacing enough for safety? Another pointed out one child's mask was under his nose and other children were holding a hand rail to walk down stairs.

Parents weren't the only ones who noticed potential problems.

Athena Vadnais, communications and community relations director at Gresham-Barlow said "going into production, we knew that the safety plan included cleaning high touch areas frequently. At one point during the video shoot, students needed to use the handrails to walk down a flight of stairs, bearing out the need for high touch areas such as handrails, door knobs, etc., to be frequently cleaned."

The three districts said they would release the informational video prior to reopening of school buildings, although none of the three districts have set a date for when students might return their schoolhouses.

COURTESY PHOTO: SCHOOL DISTRICTS  - When students come back to school buildings, they will have a check-in proceedure upon entering and will have to sanitize their hands.

The Oregon Department of Education plans to issue more guidelines for schools on Tuesday, Jan. 19. School districts are waiting on that before making any announcements about reopening and which students will be the first to come back.

School buildings in the Portland metro area have been closed since March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic surged. Students have been taught remotely, online and with study packages, in a method schools called "comprehensive distance learning."

The state imposed strict metrics for when schools could bring students back. But, on Dec. 23, as COVID-19 cases and deaths were hitting record levels, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown abruptly changed course.

She announced that the state was scrapping the rigid, complicated and changing parameters for reopening schools and leaving that decision up to districts. The 164 safety protocols such as putting 6 feet of distance between everyone and wearing protective masks still had to be followed.

Schools have been planning for reopening for months. They've gathered disinfecting materials, masks and installed protective barriers. Stickers have been slapped on floors to mark 6 feet of distance and halls declared one-way to keep students apart. Classrooms were measured for how many students each could hold with the required 35 square feet of space per student.

Administrators and school boards have debated which students should be first back in school buildings. Some favor the youngest students, those learning English, unhoused students or special education students.

Schools initially will likely use some variation of "hybrid" learning, with groups of students going to campus only a couple days per week and learn at home the other two, swapping places with the other group.

Gov. Brown moved teachers and school employees up to the so-called 1B category for COVID-19 vaccinations and some teachers' unions have pushed for at least 75% of school employees to be vaccinated before schools reopen and free testing to be available. With the relatively slow roll out of vaccines, the Oregon Health Department said school staff won't even begin to get inoculated until mid-February.

Hopefully the video will help families understand the new school procedures, the districts said. And Vadnais noted "we enjoyed welcoming students back, even if it was only for a very short time and with very few students, to help practice what we have been planning for months. We look forward to the opportunity to welcome all students and staff back when it is safe to do so."


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