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Jefferson County doesn't meet governor's new health metrics; schools are planning for distance learning

TERESA JACKSON/MADRAS PIONEER - Emily Crowley, a reading teacher at Buff Elementary, Lauren McCartney, a first grade teacher at Buff, and Esther Kalama, a first grade teacher at Warm Springs K-8 Academy, work on curriculum planning Monday, Aug. 3, at Buff Elementary.On Wednesday, July 29, Jefferson County School District 509-J Superintendent Ken Parshall sent a letter to families saying at least the first six weeks of school will be online only.

The announcement came a day after Gov. Kate Brown set health metrics counties and the state must meet in order for schools to resume in person.

The county in which a school district is located must meet these standards for three weeks in a row: 10 or fewer COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents and 5% or less increase in positive tests per week, according to Brown's new mandate.

During the week of July 26, Jefferson County had 218.1 cases per 100,000 residents, down from 274.5 the week before but up from 138.4 the week of July 12. The percentage of tests that were positive was 12.4% for the week of July 26, 17.2% for the week of July 19, and 14.1% the week of July 12.

The state must also have 5% or less positive tests as a whole, the new rule states. The state's current rate is 5.8%.

The rule is slightly less strict for kindergarten through third grade classes, and for rural school districts with fewer than 100 students. Those grades and school districts can reopen in-person education if their home counties have 30 or fewer COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents over seven days, the mandate states.

But Jefferson County's numbers are well above those requirements, as well.

This week, 39 teachers are working together to decide which standards are essential for students to know.

TERESA JACKSON/MADRAS PIONEER - Arika Dixon, a fourth grade teacher at Buff Elementary School, works on mapping out essential standards for the next school year. She is one of 39 teachers working this week.The teachers do similar work every year, usually in June, said instructional coach Sue Taylor.

All teachers did surveys to identify what's most important to cover, said Melinda Boyle, director of curriculum and instruction.

What makes this year different is that the teachers are also deciding what standards it will be important to cover from last spring that students may not have understood as well because they were doing distance learning.

Consultant Laura Nelson said part of the work would be to make sure those standards are covered in an organic fashion, and teachers aren't just reteaching them.

Nelson said the Jefferson County 509-J School District is different because it includes teachers in the process.

The teachers weren't required to come back under their contract, and Boyle said a grant is paying for their time.

Parshall is hopeful that the county's COVID-19 rate will drop after the first six weeks of school and students can return to classes.

That said, principals will be working on planning for distance learning and how best to use support staff.

"We know it's going to be long enough that we need to be good at it," Parshall said. "The good thing now is we have the next several weeks to plan."

That's different than the fourth quarter of last year, when schools were required to implement distance learning with little warning.

"We've been planning in case this happened," Parshall said.

What class will look like may vary by school.

The state has minimum requirements for the time students must spend in contact with teachers and doing applied work. Those hours vary according to the grade level of the students. Schools will be required to take attendance every day, and secondary classes will take attendance each period.

"Some of it will be on demand," Parshall said, "but some of it will be live instruction face to face."

All staff will be trained to use Google Classroom, and during the first week of school, orientations will be held for students and their families in small groups. That could be online or in person, assuming the state's guidance will allow it.

"We're going to provide some education and support for families and for students on the technology system itself," Parshall said.

The community has mostly been supportive, he said.

"I think in general most people were disappointed that we don't have onsite as an option," he said, adding that the response of staff, families and students has been mature. "They understand which decisions we have locally and which ones we don't."

Jackson Hogan of EO Media Group contributed to this report.


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