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The 1,100-student district is among the first in metro area to start hybrid learning

PMG FILE PHOTO - Corbett School District plans on bringing elementary students back to buildings on March 10 with middle and high school students in mid-April.

Corbett School District is planning to bring its elementary students back on campus March 10 for in-person learning, one of the first districts in the Portland metro area to do so.

Corbett students will return to classrooms under the so-called hybrid plan, which will have kids in classrooms for two days per week and learning at home the other two days. Corbett has traditionally not had school on Fridays.

"We want as many students back on campus as soon as we safely can" manage it, Dan Wold, Corbett's interim superintendent told the school board on Thursday, Feb. 17.

"I personally am so excited to see these kids coming back to school," Holly Elvins-Dearixon, district curriculum coordinator said at the same meeting.

Corbett elementary students will be in school from 8:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. two days per week. On the two days, when students are learning at home, they'll check in with their teachers in the morning and afternoon and spend the rest of the day on assignments and projects on their own.

The vast majority of Corbett elementary school families are anxious to get their kids back in school desks. Of the 385 elementary students, families of 315 pupils said their students would come back, while 64 students opted to remain in remote learning and nine students' preferences are not known.

"Our kindergarteners have never even been inside the classroom," said Michelle Dawkins, principal of the elementary school.

Dawkins said the district also wants families opting for distance learning to be able to switch to in-person learning if they see it is going well.

Most students in public schools in Oregon have been attending school remotely since March of last year. On Jan. 19, the state loosened rules about school buildings reopening, leaving the decision up to the districts.

But schools still must follow more than 160 pandemic safety guidelines if students return to schoolhouses. Students must have at least 35 square feet of space each, everyone must be masked and stay 6 feet apart. Students can only come in contact with 100 or fewer people per week in school.

Because of the limit on the number of contacts students have, bringing middle and high school students back to buildings is more complicated.

But, Corbett plans on bringing back middle school students April 7 and high school students on April 12.

The Corbett Middle School building is considered unsafe and not conducive to the pandemic safety rules. So middle school students will use the elementary school cafeteria and outdoor spaces for their classrooms.

Middle schoolers will continue to spend most of their school time in distance learning, but some struggling students will come to campus for academic support two mornings per week.

Two afternoons per week, all students will come back to campus for PE and some other classes.

Kathy Childress, the high school principal, bemoaned the continued restrictions saying "this isn't what we wish was happening. We wish it was real school."

She's particularly concerned about the 75 eighth grade and high school students who have incompletes in two or more classes.

Corbett is planning on opening 80 slots for high school students that are struggling and they'll come in from 8:30-11:30 a.m. They will have two classes and academic support and then head home for lunch.

Then, from 2:30-4 p.m., other students will come in for activities and events on campus. These classes could include robotics, ecology filed work and art.

Gov. Kate Brown issued a statement Thursday, Feb. 18 that said by the end of April most elementary students will be learning in classrooms.

"I am thrilled to see so many of Oregon's school districts and teachers working hard to help return our children to the most effective learning environment: in-person, personalized education," Brown said.

"Now, middle and high school students must get the same chance," she added.

Statewide she said 116,749 students are in classrooms at least part time.

Wold said he's been asked how the 1,100-student district can bring students back to buildings so much earlier than other districts in the metro area.

The state's largest district, Portland Public Schools, in contrast, is planning on bringing the youngest students back to buildings in early April. Nearby Gresham-Barlow and Reynolds school districts haven't announced possible dates for starting their hybrid learning.

"What makes us different, is that due to our size, we're able to move more quickly than other districts," he said, and also praised "our dedicated staff and supportive community."

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