509-J schools open for some kids
Jefferson County School District 509-J is bringing students back to school buildings for limited small group instruction this week.
On Oct. 20, district leaders submitted an Operational Blueprint for School Reentry to the Oregon Department of Education after receiving a letter of support and acceptances from the Jefferson County Commissioners and the Jefferson County Public Health Authority.
"We have a soft start with some schools starting this week and some next week," said district Superintendent Ken Parshall.
Under ODE's Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance, the district created a plan that selected three instructional models: onsite learning, hybrid learning and Comprehensive Distance Learning.
"We are doing that so we are in a position to be able to reopen when the Oregon school health metrics allow us to," explained Melinda Boyle, the district director of curriculum and instruction. "Even though the governor states that we have local control, we are really guided by the Oregon school health metrics."
To meet those metrics, of all those tested for COVID-19 in the county, less than 5% can be positive in the preceding seven days for three weeks in a row in both Jefferson County and Oregon.
In addition, the county must have 30 or fewer cases in the previous three weeks, with five or fewer reported in the last week of the three-week period. The restrictions are less stringent for grades K-3.
The week of Oct. 18, Oregon had 6.5% positive tests, and Jefferson County had 4.4%
"We're not meeting that metric yet, but we're very hopeful that that happens in the near future," Boyle said. "The first step would be small group instruction, which we hope to be able to do upon approval of this plan," she said, addressing school board members during the Oct. 12 board meeting.
"There are five steps to creating this operational blueprint," she said.
First, a committee of school administrators and staff, as well as health officials, formed in the spring and developed the reentry plan.
Second, the plan moved forward to Jefferson County Public Health Director Michael Baker and Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Community Health Services Manager Katie Russell for acceptance.
After that process was completed, step three was for the blueprint to be posted on the district website for public review and comment.
Step four was presenting the operational blueprint to the school board, which occurred Oct. 12.
Step five is submitting the blueprint to the Oregon Department of Education after review and acceptance from the local Public Health Authority.
The operational blueprint management plan outlines public health protocols, which include physical distancing, cohorts, communication, entry and screening, visitors and volunteers, face coverings, clear plastic barriers and isolation measures.
The plan addresses facilities and operations, including attendance, technology, arrival and dismissal, playground, disinfectant and ventilation. It also plans the district's response to an outbreak.
Currently, the nearly 3,000 district students are doing distance learning away from campuses. Students use district-issued Chromebooks and the internet to log into classes and complete their lessons remotely.
The hybrid model allows students to safely learn in school and away from school.
Although district leaders are still developing a plan for who would be eligible for in-person learning, students with special education needs and families with poor internet connectivity are at the top of the list.
The small group instruction plan has limitations. A group of 10 students can be with one staff member, and one staff member is allowed three groups of 10 students each day. Students can be in two cohorts — transportation is considered one cohort — and a maximum of 250 students can be in one school per week.
"Because of the limit of 250 students in a school during a week, for a district like ours with 3,000 students, it's a much more difficult process," said Superintendent Parshall. "Some of those schools with smaller populations are utilizing this limited small group instruction as a way to get groups of kids on campus even before we meet the metrics."
He said transportation would be the biggest challenge for the district because such a large population of students utilizes district busing.
"We think there's enough families that really want their kids back in school that they'll help us by providing some of their own transportation, which will help us make this more doable," Parshall said.
The district had hoped to transition to a limited small group instruction model sometime in October.
"The plan was submitted on Oct. 20, 2020, to ODE as the final step for allowing limited in-person instruction for our students, and we are preparing to begin limited in-person instruction," Boyle said last week.
The Jefferson County School District 509-J Operational Blueprint for School Reentry is posted on the district website and available at the district office for review: https://www.jcsd.k12.or.us/district/returning-to-learning/
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