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School district leaders consider hybrid model including distance, in-person learning for 2020-2021 year

PMG FILE PHOTO: BRITTANY ALLEN - Oregon Trail School District admin are considering options for the 2020-2021 school year. It's about this time every summer that parents and students start thinking about back to school.

"What supplies do kids need?" "Which cool new outfit will I wear the first day back?"

This year, a major question on everyone's mind is "What will school even look like in September?"

And that's a question Oregon Trail School District administrators and educators — like their peers across the state and nation — are still working to answer.

So far, the plan is still very much in flux, and likely will need to remain flexible throughout the academic year.

"This COVID-19 crisis has created a state of flux for everyone," Superintendent Aaron Bayer said. "Those plans are going to have a modicum of flexibility, so when the state comes out with new guidance we can move accordingly."

At this point in time, Bayer says, the winning plan for the 2020-2021 school year in Sandy, Boring and Welches is a hybrid of part-time in-person instruction and part-time distance learning. This kind of hybrid model is similar to that proposed for use at Gresham-Barlow and North Clackamas schools.

On Wednesday, June 10, the Oregon Department of Education announced its current guidelines for hosting in-person class time.

"We're going to have to get really creative about how we teach and interact," Colt Gill, director of the Oregon Department of Education said.

The ODE guidelines released June 10, are designed to help schools formulate plans to safely open in the fall. ODE said schools can use distance learning, traditional classes in school buildings or a mix of both.

Under the banner of "Ready Schools, Safe Learners" the required plans apply to public, charter and private schools for the 2020-21 school year. The guidelines will "pave the way for a return to in-person instruction," Gill said in a video.

These rules could prompt schools to have every other day or half-day schedules for in-person education, with students doing distance learning on their "off" days. That could present a continued challenge for working parents.

The guidelines require kids in school buildings to have a minimum of 35 square feet per person and 6 feet of social distancing. There will be a limit to the number of people allowed in school buildings at any given time.

Teachers and staff, including school bus drivers, must wear masks. Front office staff and others — such as speech pathologists — must wear clear plastic face shields. Students will not be required to mask up.

Schools must have a log of students to facilitate contact tracing, if the need arises.

Desks, door handles and other "high touch" surfaces must be disinfected between student use. Students can't share pencils or crayons.

Students and staff will have to wash their hands for 20 seconds after entering the building. School visitors will be limited.

For "higher risk" activities and areas such as band, choir, science labs and locker rooms, schools need to consider additional distancing and maybe do the activities in a gym, cafeteria or outside.

Schools are to "cancel, modify or postpone" field trips, assemblies, athletic events, practices, performances, school-wide parent meetings or any large gatherings to accommodate social distancing.

Gill said Gov. Kate Brown's office and the Oregon Health Authority are working on protocols for high school sports.

The guidelines said schools must plan for "additional support" for kids who have trouble with social distancing.

"I think the big concern is just the overall health and safety of everybody coming back into a school setting," Bayer explained. "Based on the capacity of our schools, distancing, I think, is one of the biggest hurdles we're trying to overcome."

Administrators are still working with educators and staff members on a reopening committee while also surveying parents to try and plan best steps forward. Survey results have just been returned and the administrators are now in the process of analyzing that data.

"In general, everyone wishes this could be a full-time brick and mortar program," Bayer said. "It's going to be incredibly more difficult."

ODE itself is still creating and revising requirements for the schools' reopening plans, and are scheduled to make more announcements about those guidelines prior to Aug. 14. Though the state advisements are not final, school districts all around the state are already drafting their own ideas to keep up with ODE.

To whatever degree the schools are offering remote learning, Bayer assured the district would be providing devices — Chromebooks and wifi hotspots — as it did during the spring shutdown when students were asked to participate in distance learning.

"We're trying to put a plan in place that every class is accessible every day remotely for those who can't attend," Bayer said. "We're planning to provide devices as we did during distance learning in the 2019-2020 school year."

Administrators are also keeping in mind the possibility that in-person instruction is closed again for any period of time during the new school year and looking ahead to how they'd implement more comprehensive distance learning if needed.

Fortunately, Bayer noted, the district is not likely to suffer financial ramifications from additional measures caused by the crisis, since the budget for this year is set from the current biennium and because of CARES Act funds.

"We're positioned well to be able to overcome any additional financial burden COVID could cost us," Bayer explained. "The next two biennia I think, are going to be the two that stand out. I think right now the state and federal government are working to maintain some semblance of status quo."

The Post will provide more information on the format of the 2020-2021 school year in Oregon Trail School District as its plan develops.

Pamplin Media Group education reporter Teresa Carson contributed to this article.

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