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509-J leaders await liability protection guidance; Culver schools open full time Jan. 19

Jefferson County students have not been in a classroom full time since March when the COVID-19 pandemic caused school closures across the nation, but districts are gearing up to bring them back to class.

Jefferson County 509-J School District leaders are making plans for students to return to classes in early February while waiting for additional liability guidance from the state.

The Oregon Legislature passed HB 4402, the COVID-19 liability coverage for school districts legislation, during the recent special session.

"However, we have since been advised by OSBA that this liability protection only covers us when we are operating within the Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance," explained 509-J Human Resources Coordinator Lori Bonham during the Monday evening board meeting. "So, while the governor made the metrics advisory rather than mandatory and granted us the authority to make the decision to reopen locally, if we operate outside of the guidance, we do so at our own risk."

Bonham said that upon the request of many school districts, Oregon Department of Education has agreed to reevaluate the Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance by Jan. 19, allowing districts additional flexibility to reopen and remain within the guidance, therefore maintaining their liability coverage.

JCSD Director of Student Services Kira Fee said the district wrote a letter to families Friday, Jan. 8 – which was before Oregon School Board Association had clarified that the shift in the metrics from required to advisory may impact the liability coverage.

"We're actively planning on what we know now, but we know that the new guidance may require us to make some adjustments, and that liability protection one is a pretty big 'if,'" Fee said. "It's a big decision for districts to make if they would open without that liability protection."

While waiting for the Jan. 19 release of guidance, district leaders are making plans to open schools full time for students on Monday, Feb. 1, which is the start of the second semester.

"We anticipate some changes, but we think they'll be a loosening versus new restrictions, so we feel pretty good that planning on the current restrictions and then the changes that are made might give us more flexibility," Fee said.

Superintendent Ken Parshall told families that while the governor is giving districts the authority to make their own decisions about returning to campus, the Oregon Department of Education will still be setting the safety guidelines regarding how many kids can be in a room, the wearing of masks, onsite COVID testing, and many other directions the district must follow.

In the meantime, the district has asked families to choose between two learning models for their students – in-person or continued distance learning through CASA. Comprehensive Distance Learning will no longer be an option.

"Providing families with a choice between onsite and distance learning models for their students is of great importance, and family decisions will be honored by the district," Parshall told families.

Culver School District

Culver School District students will return to campus full time on Tuesday, Jan. 19.

Families were asked to choose the onsite or online option for their students, and 93% chose onsite and 7% chose online, Culver School District Superintendent Stefanie Garber reported.

Students choosing the onsite option will attend 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. five days a week. Safety protocols will be in place. COVID vaccines are not required, as the vaccine is not recommended for children younger than 16.

Students who choose the online option will stay at home for school. Students will have a full-time online schedule with teacher-guided instruction via a company called Edgenuity, on a computer offsite. These students will remain Culver School District students, and district teachers will work with their teachers. Edgenuity K-8 students begin Jan. 19, and grades 9-12 start Edgenuity Feb. 8, at the beginning of the third quarter.

District reopening plans will be presented during the Culver School District Board's regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 14 at the district office.

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