South Lane School District (SLSD) staff and administration presented its latest blueprint for re-opening to the school board on Aug. 10, providing more details of the plan while maintaining the caveat that it is a climate in flux.
“We are constantly getting information from the state and we’ll be getting information from our parents soon with regards to our plan, so we need to be able to be flexible,” said Assistant Superintendent Brian McCasline.
The district’s blueprint is due for Lane County Public Health (LCPH) review Aug. 15.
McCasline presented the plan for the board’s review Monday, a blueprint which saw more than 70 people in three committees invest more than 900 staff work hours since June, he said.
The committee work focused on three areas: Hygiene/Organization, Content/Delivery and Social/Emotional/Behavioral Needs.
Oregon Department of Education has provided guidance titled “Ready Schools, Safe Learners,” upon which SLSD’s blueprint is based.
In determining a re-opening schedule, however, the district must take into consideration metrics handed down from Governor Kate Brown’s office.
State opening metrics released last Tuesday by the governor mean the majority of students in Ore-gon schools will likely be attending via online-only until at least October. The only exception to this could be K-3 students, which may be allowed to attend on-site class in a limited hybrid model as early as September.
The metrics dictate that, statewide, the positivity rate for all tests must be at or below 5 percent to allow opening.
County-wide, the positivity rate must also be equal or below 5 percent and there must be 10 or fewer new cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day period.
There are exceptions for students under certain categories such as English-language learners, special education students and those without internet access. Under these exception metrics, there must be a 5 percent or less positivity rate and fewer than 30 new cases per 100,000.
For Lane County schools, the biggest issue is the state metric. Though the current county case rate is trending down with the positivity rate between 1 and 2, the state positivity rate remains too high for any school to open for general on-site operations.
‘Return to Learning’
During Monday’s presentation, McCasline provided insight into what SLSD’s “Return to Learning” blueprint would look like.
Ultimately, the district aims to employ a hybrid model, which means a combination of in-person and online work.
“So, we’re going to start with everyone online. But as soon as we can and are able, we’re going to bring students back to where they’ll be in that hybrid model,” said McCasline.
Beginning Sept. 1, teachers will engage in outreach by connecting with families in preparation for the upcoming online curriculum. On Sept. 21, online classes begin.
When conditions are satisfactory, the hybrid model will see students return in cohorts (very small groups) with two days of in-school learning and three days online.
In preparing students for the online model, about 800 Chromebooks have been checked out to families with another 500 requests to be filled.
The district also has access to more than 100 hotspots, which will allow access for families with limited internet connectivity.
There is likely to be an online-only option for students as well. In a survey conducted by the district, 385 students out of about 1,500 respondents said that they are interested in the online-only option. Families are still being contacted as part of the survey.
McCasline also spoke of the district’s approach to hygiene.
“In all of our buildings, there will be daily cleaning and disinfection,” said McCasline, but noted that some areas would be disinfected several times a day, especially between contact by different student cohorts.
On buses, disinfection is planned between routes while keeping the vehicles well-ventilated with open windows.
Offices and secretary desks will be equipped with plexiglass as a secondary protection measure.
Face coverings are to be required for all staff and students, ages 5 and over, and recommended for those ages 2 to 5. Medical-grade personal protection equipment will be provided as necessary and for students, multiple face coverings will be available.
“We’ve had some offers from the community members to make child and young adult masks that we could then wash nightly and have available for students as they get on the bus or come into the building,” said McCasline. “That would allow us to clean them every night and have a fresh, sanitized mask for everyone, everyday, that aren’t just the paper masks.”
Training will be provided by Lane County Public Health to bus drivers and staff working at entrances of the buildings in order to identify potentially infected entrants.
Additionally, students will have assigned entrances to limit contact with others and an electronic tracing log system will keep track of those who enter the school.
In terms of personal hygiene, staff and students are encouraged to use hand sanitizer provided around campuses and six-foot social distancing will also be expected.
“We will be patient and understanding because it is totally against where they are in their growth and development,” said McCasline.
He also noted there is a space limitation of one student per 35 square feet in any one area and capacity limits will be posted outside rooms.
To whatever extent possible, students will be restricted from prolonged contact with as few people as possible by staying in cohorts.
Visitors will also be heavily regulated and no volunteers are allowed.
In the case of a suspected infection or the presence of COVID-related symptoms, there is an isolation room and the school nurse will assess the person in question with medical-grade PPE to determine the next course of action.
With a confirmed case, the district will follow the lead of LCPH and notify families, McCasline said.
Educators then dove into the nuts and bolts of the new education model.
Teacher Sandra Little presented a how-to booklet for Google Classroom, which will inform students and families on how to engage classwork, upload homework and contact teachers.
Next, Al Kennedy High School educator Aimee Cooper presented a tech guide for staff and administrators which aims to facilitate making distance learning productive and comprehensive.
Librarian Janet Rust then presented an online curriculum template, giving insight into how classes may look this fall.
“Basically, the classwork is what we’re focusing on and how to present it in a way that’s consistent throughout,” she said, adding that it would be a notable improvement from the kind of confusion that occurred in the spring.
SLSD Special Education Director Chad Hamilton spoke to social/emotional needs.
“[They are] very difficult when you’re distancing from one another, but it is definitely very high on our teachers’ minds as a very big need and as a result we’ve prioritized it,” he said. “In order to meet social/emotional needs, we need to see students and be with students.”
Hamilton pointed out that bringing English-language learners, special education students and kindergarteners back to school as soon as metrics allow was an important step.
He also presented plans for educating students on topics such as empathy instruction.
More details of the plans are to be revealed to families in the days and weeks to follow.
“We’re going to expect feedback and we’re going to build in some opportunities for feedback,” said McCasline.
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