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After order from governor, 'Comprehensive Distance Learning' on tap for local students

PMG FILE PHOTO - Like the many schools across Oregon dealing with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Newberg School District announced July 28 that it would be moving to 'Comprehensive Distance Learning' this fall in lieu of in-person classes.

Like the many schools across Oregon dealing with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Newberg School District announced July 28 that it would be moving to "Comprehensive Distance Learning" this fall in lieu of in-person classes.

The district originally planned for a hybrid approach to learning that included two days of in-person classes and two days of remote learning, but new standards from Gov. Kate Brown must be met before they can return to that plan.

"Our ultimate goal is getting students and staff back to school full time as soon as we can do so safely for everyone," Superintendent Joe Morelock said in a release by the district. "Because our most important concern is the health and safety of staff and students, and because of increasingly alarming data on the growth of the spread of COVID-19 as well as our counties not meeting the metrics as outlined by the governor, we will begin the new school year with Comprehensive Distance Learning (CDL).

"We know this decision itself, as well as the timing after last week's announcement of a hybrid model, are difficult. We all wish we could have our students back in school connecting with their classmates, teachers and staff. However, cases of the coronavirus are reaching daily records across the nation. In Oregon, the infection rate is more than eight times higher (per 100,000 residents) than it was just two months ago. In addition, cases among children are rising, and cases that cannot be traced back to a known infection source are increasing. These are all disturbing trends."

Brown's guidance indicates that schools cannot reopen for in-person classes until the counties they are in have an average of 10 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents, or less, over a seven-day period for three consecutive weeks.

There is an exception for kindergarteners through third grade students, who can go back to at least partial in-person learning if the county averages 30 cases per 100,000 residents in the same time period. Yamhill, Washington and Clackamas counties, where the district's boundaries lie, are not close to reaching either number.

The focus of the district now, after months of working toward a potential hybrid solution, is to create an online learning experience that meets the needs of all students and provides them with as high a quality of education as possible. Issues of equity, internet access and maintaining some form of social interaction are all on the minds of district officials.

"Quality of education is at the forefront of every discussion we have," said Gregg Koskela, district communications coordinator. "We are in this business because we care deeply for education and for our students. We want there to be rigor and preparation that gives students what they need from a classroom standpoint.

"On the social side, we know how important it is for kids to have peer interaction and have the adults outside the home who provide guidance and encouragement. Our staff hates not being with students face-to-face, so we are doing as much as we can to get kids what they need during what can be an isolated time."

Comprehensive Distance Learning includes virtual, teacher-led instruction over video conference along with supplementary materials completed by students online. The goal is to move toward a hybrid model eventually, but that won't be until the county meets the requirements outlined by Brown.

Other districts around the state don't expect that to happen for a long time. Portland Public Schools, which will likely have the hardest road to reopening, will be in full distance learning until at least early November. Other, more rural counties with fewer COVID-19 cases can embrace hybrid models or fully reopen earlier than the more populous ones.

A problem that the NSD faces is the consideration of where its students and staff live. Part of the governor's order includes looking at not only the counties where schools reside, but where students, their families and staff are from. Those counties include Yamhill, Washington, Clackamas and even Multnomah for some staff that commute to Newberg.

District officials, in addition to figuring out when they can return to any kind of in-person learning, are busy helping teachers craft curriculum for students this fall and preparing students for the online learning experience. There will be more money from the federal CARES Act directed to schools for technology purposes, and the district wants to provide every student with internet access and a computer if possible.

"We're going to figure out how to get that in the hands of our students and give them what they need to really learn," Koskela said. "We're evaluating what might work for us right now. Teachers are going to be in a challenging position, too, and it will be helpful for many of them as well. They will have challenges ahead converting to fully online and eventually pivoting to hybrid if things improve."

The message from district officials is clear, echoing that of health officials at the national, state and local levels. In order to return to in-person school, the COVID-19 pandemic must be under control to a point where it is safe.

"Let's do our part and follow the governor's guidelines," Koskela said. "Wear masks when outside as much as possible, limit social gatherings to 10 people or less, and let's get things back under control so we can all work together to get our kids back in schools."

For more information on the district's plan for the fall, visit Further plans and updates will be posted on the district's website and shared via its social media pages, as well as sent to families via email in the coming months.

"Health experts continue to tell us that it is within our grasp as a nation to control this virus," Morelock said. "Vigilant social distancing and isolation, limiting the size of group gatherings, wearing masks, handwashing and other hygiene methods over a sustained four to six week period can localize virus outbreaks and allow health officials to quarantine infected persons and keep things under control. Our current viral spread is currently too high to do that. We can work together in hope for a return to more normal schools and life."

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