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Superintendent Kathy Ludwig said factors for reopening include advisory health metrics and legal liability

This story has been updated from its original version.

The West Linn-Wilsonville School Board approved a recommendation to reopen for in-person learning at Monday's meeting, but not without substantial debate over the start date.

Superintendent Kathy Ludwig recommended that the district begin a phased-in transition to in-person learning under their hybrid model, starting with kindergarteners on Feb. 8. And while some board members wanted to see more urgency in terms of both the timeline and number of grades returning to school, the board ultimately approved Lugwig's recommendation by a 5-0 vote.

Under this plan, kindergarten returns Feb. 8, grade one returns Feb. 15, grade two returns Feb. 22 and grade three returns Feb. 24. Grades four and five return March 1 and 3, respectively.

The district currently functions under comprehensive distance learning in which students can access learning remotely at any time of the day, and Ludwig said it would take time to switch from one instruction model to another.

Ludwig added that the district sent out surveys to gauge how families feel about sending their kids back to the classroom. The number of families who want to stay in comprehensive distance learning will be a factor in determining next steps for reopening, and Ludwig said the district's meal plan will also need to be adjusted.

Additionally, Ludwig said the district promised teachers a minimum of two-weeks' notice for transitions.

"So these things do take some time," Ludwig said.

Aside from those logistics, Ludwig said there are other factors to consider when thinking about reopening including the state's advisory health metrics and how they affect liability. Gov. Kate Brown's announcement Dec. 23 moved health metrics from mandatory to advisory in an effort to help schools reopen in early 2021.

"It doesn't mean those health metrics have gone away or aren't to be considered," Ludwig said.

Ludwig said legal counsel has advised her that the district risks losing liability immunity provided under House Bill 4402 if the district reopens under current circumstances, even with health metrics being advisory instead of mandatory. Although no court has considered this yet, advisory metrics could still be considered an emergency order and districts would still need to be in compliance according to Ludwig.

Other factors include use of infection control protocol, equity and vaccination rollout.

Additionally, Ludwig said that at this time the district cannot present a timeline for middle and high school grades, as they want to ensure younger learners can transition smoothly first.

Board member Ginger Fitch cautioned her colleagues to consider their personal capacity to take on a lawsuit, heeding what Ludwig shared about a possible liability issue.

On the other end of the spectrum, board member Dylan Hydes voiced his concern about the timeline.

"I want to see kids in school faster than what this timeline shows," he said. "I think the latest science says that we can do this safely."

He asked that the timeline be moved up by one week and said he was also concerned that there is no timeline for grades 6-12.

Hydes said he would support a much faster timeline, with all students having the option to be back to in-person learning by March.

Board member Chelsea King said she would also be in support of a faster timeline.

Board Chair Regan Molatore expressed her appreciation for the teaching staff working under extraordinary circumstances in comprehensive distance learning.

"It comes down to when is the best time for that return. And it comes down to when we can do that safely," she said.

She said everyone's idea of "safe" is a little different.

Molatore felt the safest option was Ludwig's suggestion of a Feb. 8 start date.

When it came time to vote Monday on Ludwig's recommendation, Hydes moved to amend the motion to include grades six through twelve to start by March 8.

"It would give us more than two months to see a reduction in that holiday blow up of COVID that we're told may be here," he said.

Additionally, he said it would give the district a month with primary school in-person learning, which would inform how they would transition secondary grades into classrooms.

"It gives high school students and middle school students something to look forward to that is so important, I think, for their mental well being," he added.

King, who mentioned having three teenagers at home, said she understands Hydes' push for a start date for secondary students.

"But instead what I would prefer to do is to just make an ask of the superintendent to come up with a plan, rather than for us to choose the date. And I do that because I trust her process and how we arrived at this plan," she said.

Hydes' amendment was rejected by a 3-2 vote.

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