South Lane School District (SLSD) confirmed its first case of COVID-19 impacting a student on July 25 as it prepared the release of an update to its back-to-school model for this fall.
The affected student, who attends Cottage Grove High School, had been in close proximity with other high school students who attended summer workouts, though the district noted that the student has not been on campus.
“We’re currently working with Lane County Public Health,” said SLSD Superintendent Yvonne Curtis. “They’re in the process of determining the timeframe in which they need to do the tracing and the tracking of the students.”
Potentially infected students and families have been contacted by LCPH, with those in close contact with the student being sent into a 14-day quarantine, according to Curtis. In addition, the district has suspended summer workouts and practices until the county health authority issues further guidance.
Meanwhile, on July 27, the district released an update shedding some light on its approach to starting the new school year this fall.
The update, Curtis said, was created with situations like the recent student COVID-19 case in mind.
“We knew it was a great possibility,” she said.
One of the most conspicuous terms in the update is “Comprehensive Distance Learning” (CDL), a public health-conscious approach to education which the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) defines as including the core values of care, connection and continuity of learning.
“When we’re in Comprehensive Distance Learning, that means that all students are at home receiving instructions — mostly online,” said Curtis. “But for the students that don’t have access to online, we’re using some of the other methods that we used in the spring for distance learning.”
Spring methods included solutions such as phone calls and the distribution of packets, though Curtis pointed out that there is a significant difference between CDL and methods used when schools were still adapting to a rapidly shifting public health environment.
“In terms of teaching, kids will be getting new lessons and they will be making progress on the grade-level standards for the new grade-level year,” she said. “The teachers are really focused on high-quality, rigorous, moving-forward learning. In the spring, we were told to mostly focus on care and connection and to not worry about forward progress. But this is a completely different message.”
In developing high standards for distance learning, teachers have many tools at their disposal with the help of a digital learning management system. Still, curricula have yet to be produced and the district’s planning team is looking into how to create content.
“A lot of the content can be pulled from online, so it’s not like they’re creating every single thing, but it’s challenging,” said Curtis.
The district’s planning team of more than 70 people is mostly made up of teachers and includes members of the South Lane Education Association (SLEA), which represents the certified employees of SLSD.
“Right now, it’s very collaborative,” said Curtis. “We’re all in agreement with how we should roll out. Of course, there are still lots of questions.”
So far, responses to the new plans have been positive.
“Teachers recognize the safety risks but we also want to do everything possible to support our students,” read a statement from SLEA. “We are actively planning and discussing the best course of action and paying attention to the data.”
The school district’s current timeline returns teachers to work on Sept. 1 to begin preparation under the CDL model.
Staff will then connect with families and take feedback while offering support to ensure students’ return to school is relatively seamless.
“We realize that there’s a huge spread in whether parents are going to have time, if kids have ac-cess and if they can even manage it depending on their work and home life schedule,” said Curtis. “We know there are just a number of challenges for families.”
All students are scheduled to start classes under the new CDL format on Sept. 21.
Following this initial opening and when conditions allow, the district is also looking at getting students physically back in the buildings in a staggered return.
If all goes according to plan, students will slowly return to school buildings in small groups either on a schedule of Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday. Wednesdays will be reserved as a distance learning day for all students, but with multiple opportunities for connections and supports.
Tentative plans put this return as early as mid-October if public health conditions allow.
While the district awaits clarification on what exactly CDL will look like, Governor Kate Brown released new state and county metrics on Tuesday to guide school district decisions about when it is safe to resume in-person instruction.
“The metrics released today will give our public schools, private schools and communities the opportunity to make sound decisions based on the latest science and health data,” said Gov. Brown in a press release. “They make a clear connection between the spread of the disease in a community, and statewide, and when a school may resume, or must halt, in-person instruction.”
The county metrics, which must be met three weeks in a row, require 10 or fewer cases per 100,000 people over seven days and a test positivity rate of 5 percent or less over seven days.
Statewide, it is simply required that a test positivity rate of 5 percent or less over seven days must be met for three weeks in a row.
Under certain conditions, in-person instruction may also resume only for kindergarten through third-grade students and remote and rural school districts with fewer than 100 students.
“Younger students get the virus at lower rates, get less sick, and spread the virus less than older students and adults,” according the governor office’s press release. “Younger students also need more in-person instruction to build the literacy and math skills critical for lifelong learning. Schools in remote and rural communities are less likely to contribute to the community spread of COVID-19 cases that cannot be traced and contained.”
While student safety needs to be taken into consideration, Curtis said that returning to in-person instruction will have a notable impact on the quality of education as well.
“We all want to get kids back in school as soon as possible,” she said. “We know we can do our best teaching and learning when students are in the school with us.”
Curtis said she feels that a community effort can see this happen by bringing COVID-19 cases down.
“So, to me it’s very simple: make sure we abide by social distancing, washing our hands often and wearing our face coverings and masks,” she said. “And it’s dependent on whether everybody is taking responsibility for doing that together.”
Starting today (July 30), the district will begin outreach efforts to collect information and community feedback on steps moving forward.
“We want to know what we can do to help support parents, families and guardians in ensuring their students get the education they need – and what we can do to ensure care and connection,” said Curtis.
More information on the school district’s plans can be found online at www.slane.k12.or.us.
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