DALLAS — Though much depends on the course of the COVID-19 pandemic over the next few weeks, the plan now is to have students in Dallas School District return to class at least two days a week this fall.
School officials working on the district’s reopening plan have designed a hybrid schedule in which half of students would attend in cohorts two days a week, and the other half another two days a week. On, Wednesdays no students will attend in-person classes. The mid-week break will serve as a teacher prep and sanitation day.
School districts are required to follow guidance issued by the Oregon Department of Education and Oregon Health Authority, and come up with a plan for opening by Aug. 15.
“We determined, like probably 90 percent of districts in the state of Oregon, that a hybrid schedule is necessary to comply with social distancing requirements that were listed by ODE and the Oregon Health Authority,” said Kim Kellison, the district’s director of teaching and learning. “We took significant input from teachers on that when we met in our large group because it was really important to us that they have a voice about that. It’s not going to be a perfect system but that is the direction that we are headed.”
The plan must be approved by the Polk County Public Health Department. The district has been working with the department throughout the planning process.
The district has also taken input from parents in the form of a survey that more than 600 community members completed, most of them parents of students, Interim Superintendent Andy Bellando said.
“Of anything I’ve noted about our community, it’s an open willingness to really contribute, especially when asked,” Bellando said. “We have quite a diverse representation of our entire community.”
Parents had questions about daycare; supporting special education students, and those with other special needs; whether parents could select their student’s cohort; and if siblings could attend on the same days.
Kellison said the district is working on solutions to those issues.
She said districts are required to complete a distance learning-only plan as part of its reopening plan. The new distance education plan would require higher standards for learning than what was put in place after school closed in the spring, Kellison said.
“We want this to be more comprehensive and more rigorous and more academically challenging for our students,” Kellison said.
She said to achieve that, the state is requiring teachers take attendance for online classes, and have stricter grading standards.
“In the spring, they said we could give a pass, no pass and that lead to less buy-in from kids,” Kellison said. “I think if you shore up some of those different things, I think you will have better success in an online platform.”
Board member Mike Blanchard asked if the planning team has considered what educational standards would be prioritized if students had to move to an all-distance learning again.
Kellison said the district strive for the same goals as it would if students were attending in-person classes every day. She’s already designed a master schedule for the high school, and said teachers will be trained to make the best use of online teaching tools.
“I think our staff did a phenomenal job (in the spring), but there are some tricks that they could learn,” she said.
Blanchard asked if it’s possible to have younger students, kindergarten through third-grade or kindergarten through fifth grade, attend four days per week.
“A number of school districts are doing that. Some school districts have the luxury of having additional space in order to do that,” Bellando said. Dallas doesn’t have the space to do that within its classrooms at the three elementary schools. He said the schools must consider using other spaces, such as libraries and gyms as classrooms.
“I’ve also asked the principals to really get creative,” Bellando said. “I think we owe it to the community. I think we owe it to the parents. I think I owe it to you are a school board that we have done everything that we can to determine if that’s a reasonable option at the K-3 or K-5 level, if possible, and only if we can do it safely within the OHA standards.”
Teaching staff would have to be increased or specialists could transition to teach regular classes, he said.
“We are going to, in a very short amount of time, going to rule in or rule out the possibility of our K-3 or K-5 students going up to four days per week,” Bellando said.
Blanchard suggested moving elementary students to other schools, such as the high school, to provide more room for in-person classes for younger students.
“We are in an emergency situation, so perfection left town a long time ago,” Blanchard said. “It feels like the middle and high schoolers … they are going to survive better in an online environment. The kindergarteners through fifth graders are going to be the ones who are bearing the brunt of two-day versus a full schedule.”
Bellando said moving elementary school students to another building would require extra planning for transportation, student arrival and departure times, traffic flow and restroom use.
“The short answer is yes we are having those conversations. The long answer is I don’t know yet what the logistics of something like that would be,” Bellando said. “I can’t rule it out. We are definitely going to continue to have those conversations.”
Blanchard said the district should speak to churches as a possible option for classroom space or daycare centers, as well. He said they are mostly empty during the week.
“It’s an emergency. We are going to lose a year for these kids, so we need to think about it,” Blanchard said. “If we are in an emergency, we need to act like we are in an emergency.”
For more information: Dallas School District has a COVID-19 information page on its website at www.dallask12.or.us/corona-virus. The page has a link to an email for parents and community members to send questions, suggestions or concerns. Interim Superintendent Andy Bellando will post updates on the plan progress every week to 10 days.
On Aug. 6, the district will host a community outreach meeting via Zoom at 6 p.m. The board will consider the completed plan at its Aug. 10 meeting.