The West Linn-Wilsonville School Board discussed the start of the school year, contact tracing and the COVID-19 notification process at a meeting Monday, Sept. 13.
The mission for the 2021-22 school year is to "elevate student voices," according to Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Jennifer Spencer-Iiams.
"We believe that elevating student voices and listening to student voices throughout our processes is key to us achieving our goals as a district," Spencer-Iiams said.
A pathway to achieving that is through hearing from the three student board representatives: Lucinda Fein, a senior at West Linn High School; Miguel Tejeda, a senior at Wilsonville High School; and Michelle Quinn, a senior at Arts & Technology High School.
The students shared what their first week back to in-person learning was like. All agreed that although it was great to see everyone back in person, it was also a bit overwhelming.
The board invited the students to share their "lived experience" throughout the school year to provide transparency on what is going on in the classrooms.
District continues to provide at-home learning
Superintendent Kathy Ludwig recapped the first week of school for students and staff.
About 400 community members stopped at the Family Empowerment Center, which works to get students ready for the academic year with supply giveaways and assistance with technologies, she said.
Although not enforced by the state, the school district continues to provide at-home learning options for students not able to attend in-person classes. Two-hundred and seventy-six students are currently learning from home.
To ensure a successful school year, the district is following a three-tiered screening process which entails checking for COVID symptoms at home, at the school door and in the classroom, according to Ludwig.
Alerting families of COVID exposure
The board reminded families that after contact tracing, if it is determined that a student was not in close contact with an infected individual there will be no notification. In the 2020-21 academic year, the district approached every positive case with an update to all families — this was determined to be unhelpful and set off panic from concerned families.
"What we've learned from that is that it wasn't as necessary, and it wasn't as helpful," Ludwig said.
In primary grades, classrooms will be notified of positive cases as they are a "pretty intact cohort," she added. But in the middle and high schools — where students are in multiple classes, mixed lunch periods and clubs — the pools are too large, and the school district will conduct a contact tracing process to determine who needs to be notified.
The district will be open to adjusting the notification process and public feedback in the coming months.
"But we learned last year that we were over-notifying, and in the case we were not being helpful to families, it was too broad." Ludwig said. "An actual more targeted, strategic notification process is more helpful."
Questions on masks, graduation requirements
During the meeting's public comments segment, a couple of community members inquired about updates on mask mandates and how Oregon's lowered graduation standards will impact students in the district.
Kyle Holmes, a parent in the district, requested more transparency on safety.
"We believe the district needs to address several key gaps in their COVID-19 strategy to ensure safety and continuity of education for students," he said, reading from a petition that he and other parents created.
Holmes outlined the group's concerns, requesting more information on quarantine notifications and what threshold of an outbreak triggers a mass notification to parents. He also asked the board to provide more support for quarantined students, especially those with special needs who need unique learning plans to maintain quality education.
"I know you guys are putting in a lot of work. I know that this isn't something that's easy to do. So we appreciate the time and effort that the school board district puts into protecting the safety of our children," he said.
Actions taken on hiring process, new holiday
Director of Human Resources Shayla Waldern detailed a proposal to remove the salary cap for veteran new-hire teachers, allowing them to receive the appropriate level of salary for their expertise.
"Current language states that any incoming new teacher who has 10 or more years of experience will still begin at 10 years (no higher) of experience on the salary schedule," Waldern wrote in a memo. "This 'cap' has increasingly limited the district's ability to attract and hire experienced teachers especially those for specialized placements (e.g. bilingual positions, special education)."
After consideration, the board unanimously voted to approve the motion.
The board also approved a calendar adjustment to acknowledge Juneteenth as a federal holiday. This alters the school year, as June 19, 2022, lands on a Sunday. June 20 will now mark a non-contract day for staff and students, making June 21 the last day of school.
The next school board meeting is set for 6 p.m. on Oct. 4.
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