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The district adjusts reopening plan for a mid-February start date and three-week phase-in of elementary grades

Lake Oswego School District Superintendent Lora de la Cruz provided the board with an update on the reopening plan at a meeting Monday, Jan. 25. In the update she asked for guidance from the board on two key items: pushing back the in-person hybrid start date to mid-February and how the district should pace the return of each grade level.

Many of the district's union educators opposed the previous plan to reopen starting the first week of February, as it didn't leave enough time for personnel to become fully inoculated. De la Cruz held town hall-style listening sessions with staff at each elementary school to hear their concerns directly.

In her presentation Monday, de la Cruz said although local public health authorities say the district is ready to return to in-person hybrid learning, their guidance is to push the start date to mid-February.

She said this builds time for case rates to continue to trend downward, while also allowing the district to implement changes to class rosters and teacher schedules, address the shortage in staff and receive more information on vaccine distribution for school personnel.

She said the district has been advised to continue to adhere to state health metrics for returning to in-person learning, despite the metrics being advisory.

For elementary students to return to hybrid in-person learning there must be no more than 350 positive COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in the county — a metric Clackamas County currently meets.

Secondary schools can transition to hybrid when the county has no more than 200 positive cases per 100,000 people.

De la Cruz said the district is working closely with city and state officials on the vaccine rollout for school personnel.

Frank Luzaich, the executive director of elementary programs for the district, said staff is fine-tuning the safety protocols and traffic patterns within elementary schools so ensure a safe environment.

"For us, a gradual and safe return does require everyone to change the way they do business," he said.

He said everything from parent drop-off and pickup to bus schedules and instructional routines will look different when students return to the classroom in mid-February.

He said a three-week phase-in for kindergarten through fifth grade would get all elementary students in school by the first week of March, but a four week phase-in would give kindergarteners, who have never been in a classroom setting, and first graders, who had their first year interrupted, more time to adjust to the protocols of in-person learning.

Board member Kirsten Aird asked if the phase-in could be done in two weeks instead of three or four.

"That's really eight days to bring in six grade levels," Luzaich said. "Starting small, we're gonna learn as we go … as we bring in our youngest ones — our kindergartners — our first grade team and the rest of our office teams are going to be watching how that goes."

He said they expect to learn a lot from the first phase-in, like if they'll have to increase staffing or make adjustments to transportation.

"We know with our youngest ones they're going to be the most nervous, and so will some of our staff who will be the first ones coming in to do this routine. We will build confidence over time," Luzaich said.

Board member Neelam Gupta asked de la Cruz to share what local health officials are saying regarding the effectiveness of the vaccine.

According to de la Cruz, Clackamas County Public Health Officer Dr. Sarah Present said the first dose of the vaccine does provide significant risk reduction for the first several months.

Aird, who works in public health, agreed with the statement.

"I will just put a big, huge exclamation point on that statement. I will say right now that I am not interested in waiting for full vaccination or full family vaccination," Aird said.

Aird pushed for students to start Feb. 11, getting all elementary students in classrooms by the first week of March.

"I was elected to sit on this board to get 7,000 kids educated in the best way possible to achieve excellence and I'm hearing from parents that they're not buying it," Aird said.

De la Cruz said the team would take that request into the planning process of creating a schedule.

The district hopes to announce a definitive start date this Friday.

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