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Targeted groups of local students will return to the classroom in small groups

FILE  - Some students in the Newberg School District will return to the classroom this month after a long wait and plenty of online learning.

Some students in the Newberg School District will return to the classroom this month after a long wait and plenty of online learning.

With a change in guidance from Gov. Kate Brown, making COVID-19 metrics advisory rather than mandatory, school districts throughout the state are in the process of developing return plans for students. For Newberg, this includes a select handful of groups returning to a classroom setting with masks and social distancing implemented, along with other safety precautions for students and staff.

"Different schools in the district are working on this at a different pace," Gregg Koskela, district communications coordinator, said. "There are general criteria, which is what students are at higher risk or who need additional support. Being in-person doesn't replace comprehensive distance learning, but instead gives the support that is needed for students in that regard."

A return to the classroom for students in middle and high school will focus primarily on students who need extra academic assistance, be they behind in school or struggling in a particular class or requiring additional forms of support. The first Newberg High School students to return in-person are those in Tiger Manufacturing, a student-run machine shop that allows students to learn a trade and operate a business. These students need the in-person experience to satisfy their requirements for Career and Technical Education (CTE).

The entire process of sending students back is complicated and varies from school to school, Koskela said, with overall guidance and assistance provided by the district.

"We're working on a lot of things, like how we can make transportation effective, how to get families aligned across schools," he said. "All those logistical details are important. Each school is starting with a really small number and then they'll be getting the kinks worked out in terms of masks, distancing and all the other details necessary to do this. We'll slowly be adding those processes over the next few weeks and you have to consider staffing issues as well as far as availability during certain times."

Newberg will start at limited in-person and build up from there. Later on in the process, the district will have the lower elementary grades – likely kindergartners and first grade students – get back into a hybrid model of two days in-person and two days distance learning. Eventually that will work its way up through all the grades and every student will be in hybrid learning, but that's likely a few months off.

The district is keeping a close eye on situations like the one in the United Kingdrom, where schools were reopened but had to abruptly close again due to a major spike in COVID cases, some brought on by the new, more contagious variant of the virus found there. One area where the district has some hope to make things easier is vaccination, which could happen for staff members in the coming weeks or months.

The Newberg School District has been named a Point of Delivery (POD) for the vaccine and educators are among the first few groups slated to receive inoculations. When that happens remains to be seen.

"When the vaccine is available to us, we will be ready to set up distributions sites and we will start with our staff who want to have the vaccine," Koskela said. "We don't have a timeline quite yet and there are meetings coming up, but we don't quite know when that'll be yet."

For more information, keep an eye on the Newberg Public Schools page on Facebook or go online to Newberg.k12.or.us.


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