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The first day of school in West Linn-Wilsonville is Aug. 31. Will there be students on campus?

Officials with the West Linn-Wilsonville School District are considering whether to start the 2020-21 school year with all students learning from home as COVID-19 infection rates continue to rise and families express concern over both distance learning and in-person education.

COURTESY PHOTO: WEST LINN-WILSONVILLE SCHOOL DISTRICT - The West Linn-Wilsonville School District is presenting families with the option to choose how they want to return to school in the fall. Across the state, some school districts — such as Eugene, Corvallis, Lake Oswego and others — have already decided to start the school year with everyone learning online.

At a virtual meeting of the WL-WV School Board Monday, July 27, Superintendent Kathy Ludwig said the state plans to give schools more guidance tomorrow (Tuesday, July 28) on how to assess local COVID-19 rates and how local numbers factor into each district's decision to reopen in person.

The school board will decide its approach in the next two to three weeks, following additional guidance from the state and further community feedback.

Earlier this summer, the WL-WV district proposed a two-pronged approach to returning to school: Students could choose to attend school entirely online in a new WL-WV online K-12 program, or they could enroll in the district's hybrid model, attending school with half their usual number of classmates one day and learning from home on alternate days.

Now that the first day of school is less than five weeks away, and coronavirus cases across the state continue to rise, the district is weighing whether to have all students learn from home to begin the year.

Ludwig told the school board what she shared with WL-WV families in an email Friday, July 24: Even families who choose the hybrid model of schooling may end up with students learning from home, depending on the health situation.

If necessary, students who opted for the hybrid model would shift together to the district's Comprehensive Distance Learning (CDL model). When safe, these students would return to school under the hybrid model. Ludwig said that whether at school or at home, the students using this model would stick with the same teacher throughout the year.

This fall, CDL would include time for all families to learn the district's virtual tools and procedures, virtual teaching by staff, multiple live-learning opportunities each day, letter grades, development of classroom culture through interaction with teachers and peers, access to instruction and progress reports for students learning with an individualized education plan (IEP), 504 plan or students learning English.

For students and teachers learning on-site at school, things will look different, according to district administrators. All teachers and students, except those who are medically unable, will wear some sort of face covering while at school.

Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Spencer-Iiams said the district had acquired a wide range of PPE for students and teachers: Cloth face masks, face shields, N95, disposable gloves and even gowns.

To keep "cohorts" or groups of students small (limiting exposure in case of an outbreak), administrators said the district is considering altering the typically six-period school day for middle and high school students.

More information on what reopening under the different models might look like will be shared at community meetings this week. Details are also available on the district website.

At Monday's virtual meeting, school officials discussed the path toward reopening after Board Chair Regan Molatore recapped comments from several community members that showed the community's split on the decision.

Eight commenters expressed a desire for in-person schooling, citing frustration with distance learning in the spring, a low rate of infection for children, inequity for parents who can't work from home and children with more specific needs that can't be met online, as well as concern that tax dollars would be wasted on an online system that wouldn't adequately teach kids.

On the other hand, three commenters said schools should exercise abundant caution for the health and safety of students and staff. Two citizens said school should be online until there is a coronavirus vaccine, while a third said online education should continue at least until there are no new cases in Oregon for 21 days.

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