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Students will learn remotely at least through the first trimester ending Dec. 4

PMG FILE PHOTO - Molalla River School District has shifted to distance learning in the fall at least through the first trimester ending Dec. 4.

With Gov. Kate Brown's Tuesday, July 28th, announcement that schools cannot return to in-person learning unless certain metrics are met in the county and state, Molalla River School District announced the next day that it is planning to begin the school year with all students learning from home.

Molalla Schools Superintendent Tony Mann revealed the change in a letter to families Wednesday, July 29.

"This announcement provides us all with a clear path forward in the short-term and provides families the time they have requested to begin planning under these new requirements," Mann said in the letter.

Molalla had, on July 9, shared a fairly detailed hybrid plan with the school board which included four in-person learning days for grades K-2 and two in-person instruction days and three at-home learning days for grades 3-12. Additionally, the district had planned to offer a fully-online learning academy for those who opted for it. Then the district held a series of Zoom meetings to engage the community regarding the plan.

However, in her announcement, Brown indicated that for any school district to return in-person instruction, for three weeks in a row the county's COVID-19 case rate must be at or less than 10 per 100,000 people and the state's rate must be at or below 5%.

In the last three weeks (beginning July 5, 12 and 19), Clackamas County's case rate per 100,000 was at 34.7, 34.7 and 34.4 respectively, according to data from the Oregon Health Authority.

In the last three weeks, the state's case rate has been at 6.2%, 6.6% and 5.1% respectively, per OHA's weekly reports.

While there is time to see those numbers meet Brown's metrics, Molalla has made the call based on the current trend and is committed to distance learning through the first trimester, ending Dec. 4.

"Our hope is to enter the hybrid learning model or in-person instruction for the second trimester; however, the state-issued metrics will drive the decision of when we can safety reopen our buildings," Mann said.

Beginning Sept. 8, all students will participate in a comprehensive distance learning model.

Some families expressed concern about the effectiveness of distance learning, Mann pointed out, based on experiences in the spring. But Mann said the new model will look much different.

"In the spring, we had to move rapidly into a distance learning environment that posed significant challenges, as we had little time to prepare and even less time to provide necessary professional development for staff," Mann said. "Based on your feedback and the viable learning models available for fall, a full-time option was planned as a complementary model to our hybrid learning model. By having a full-time online model in our initial plan, we are prepared to enter the 2020-2021 school year with a robust, online learning environment."

Plus, the district will make some changes to the model based on feedback. These changes include: student-teacher interaction on a daily basis, real-time live lessons, regular opportunities for peer interaction, and improving feedback and assessment practices.

"These past six months have been a time of change and uncertainty for all of us," Mann said. "We continue to be thankful for your patience, grace and willingness to partner with us as we work to develop the very best educational model for all children in our community.

"While we feel great disappointment that our 2020-2021 school year will not start with our students and staff back in the classrooms, the updated announcement from the state allows us to move forward with a full focus on providing our students with safe, high-quality instruction this fall."

Mann said to watch for additional communication in coming weeks.

Kristen Wohlers
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