District looks at logistics of bringing students back
On Dec. 23, 2020, Governor Kate Brown -- in a letter to the Oregon Department of
Education and the Oregon Health Authority -- announced her intention to change the state COVID-19 case metrics for K-12 schools from mandatory to advisory.
This announcement provides Oregon schools with the ability to make local decisions about reopening schools for in-person learning, considering which path forward is the safest and best meets the needs of students, staff, families, and the community.
Here in the Sherwood School District, our teachers and instructional staff have worked diligently since September to provide instruction within the comprehensive distance learning model to their students -- in many cases, developing new strategies and practices along the way!
Now, with the reality of planning to bring our students back into our buildings before us -- starting with our youngest learners, in a hybrid model -- those staff members will once again be changing direction, working to embrace the next phase of our 2020-21 school year.
While there is a specific and essential focus on how to adapt instruction once again to support a hybrid model of learning, another component of bringing students back into our building is to address the numerous technical and operational factors involved. Our operations teams have worked tirelessly through the last nine months to think creatively and identify any challenges that must be overcome to prepare for the return of in-person instruction. One such challenge is how to safely and effectively transport students across the district to and from school.
Since the beginning of the school closures, our transportation staff have worked diligently to implement new health and safety protocols, as well as to develop plans that incorporate social distancing and cohorting into bus routes. When we begin transporting students, our drivers will wipe down touch point surfaces with disinfectant after every route, and a more thorough cleaning/disinfection will be done every afternoon. Staggered seating will be arranged on all buses, and families will sit together to maximize seating capacity while still tending to spacing.
Contact tracing logs will be utilized upon arrival and departure from school, and all drivers have received training in both visual symptom screening and isolation measures, should a student develop symptoms during their ride. Windows will be used for increased ventilation, and all students 5 years and older -- along with all drivers -- will be required to wear masks.
Another operational challenge involves the important work of making our building environments as safe as possible for students and staff. Our maintenance and custodial teams have worked extensively on the creation of a comprehensive health and safety plan, and implementation of that plan. The majority of our HVAC filters have been upgraded to allow for a higher level of air filtration, in addition to the increased circulation of outside air and the use of air purifiers.
All facilities and equipment are deep cleaned and fully sanitized according to regular schedules, including daily disinfecting of touch points and hard surfaces. Isolation rooms have been identified at each building location, and staff assigned to monitor those rooms will have access to full-body PPE and will be trained by our nursing staff. The work to maximize safety at our buildings is ongoing, and will continue to be a primary focus of our operations team.
In addition to preparation tasks and forward planning, some areas of Operations have already adapted their work with students and families this year. One such department is our nutrition services staff, who have been providing student meals on all school days since April 2020.
In addition to continuing to provide meals to distance learning students via our meal hubs, this team will also create plans to accommodate meals for in-person students as they return to the school buildings. All students, regardless of instructional model, qualify for free school meals through the end of the 2020-21 school year -- as do children of all ages throughout the Sherwood community! More details about in-person meal services will be shared with families as we get closer to the start of the Hybrid model.
Another department that has stayed connected with our students and families throughout the closure is our technology department, a team which has been essential to supporting the distance learning model.
To prepare for the return of students, Technology staff have partnered with other District staff to implement a touchless digital contact tracing process for staff and authorized visitors, and are developing a student contact tracing system for all grade levels as well. Classrooms throughout the district will be outfitted with assistive audio technology, ensuring that students can hear their teachers provide instruction clearly while those educators wear masks. Procedures for student device use have been adjusted, and all students in Hybrid learning will take their devices home each night to ensure instruction can continue uninterrupted in the event of any future COVID-related disruptions to in-person learning.
The diligent work of our operations staff, in various departments across the district, provides essential support to the work of bringing students safely -- and effectively -- back into our school buildings. Supporting the instruction of students has always been important work – and never more so than now! As a superintendent, I am so appreciative of the work of all staff -- both instructional and operational -- to prepare us for the path ahead.
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