POLK COUNTY — Much remains unknown still, but schools have finished plans to reopen classes this fall.
Plans are to be submitted to the state this week, and staff training will begin at the end of the month.
All students will begin with comprehensive distance learning due to state standards regarding COVID-19 case counts, but districts have crafted plans to bring students back in hybrid models once they are able.
Rules regarding metrics will allow younger students, those in grades kindergarten through third grade, to come back to school buildings part time sooner than older students.
Local school officials expect that directives will be changed several times between now and the beginning of classes in about a month.
“This has been maybe more than just a bit of a rollercoaster,” said Dallas Superintendent Andy Bellando. “This has been quite an interesting ride.”
On Monday night, Central and Dallas school district board approved their plans for distance learning, and eventually, bringing students back to buildings.
Technically, school in Central School District will start on Sept. 2, but classes are scheduled to start Sept. 10.
“We are really starting the year off with what we’re calling a smooth start,” said CSD Superintendent Jennifer Kubista. “Making sure that students and families are successful, so we’re really going to be focusing on an orientation type of conference.”
There are more professional learning days scheduled for teachers than have been in other years, in August and throughout the school year.
At their Aug. 10 school board meeting, Kubista showed Venn diagrams to illustrate the common and different features of the district’s hybrid and online-only learning models.
“We are going to use FuelEducation as our curriculum platform, so that’s a similarity in both of the models,” she said.
Teachers will have office hours and there will be daily check-ins with students.
One of the differences is that students in the hybrid model will meet virtually until they are able to meet in person.
“There will be routines if you choose to be in that hybrid model, you’ll have direct instruction, conversations with your teachers, you’ll have more access to that dual credit,” Kubista said. “If you’re in the virtual academy, you’ll have some access to electives but you may not have as much contact with a teacher as you normally would, because it is at your pace.”
Students and teachers will still communicate, but not in a structured setting.
The board unanimously approved the purchase of the FuelEducation learning platform.
Board member Donn Wahl asked about the cost.
Cec Koontz, director of finance and operations said the cost for this school year is $1.4 million, including materials.
She said she will be returning to the board with a full funding plan, which will include a combination of grants and adjustments.
The full Aug. 10 school board meeting is posted on the district’s YouTube channel, Info Central.
Kim Kellison, Dallas’ director of teaching and learning, said that two documents will guide reopening: The district blueprint, which will provide an outline for when students return to buildings, and the comprehensive reopening guide, are posted to the district’s website.
“There are changes, weekly changes, from the Oregon Health Authority and ODE (Oregon Department of Education),” Kellison said. “All these documents will be posted to the district website for our families to look at when they need further guidance or information.”
Kellison said while the district will open school with all distance learning, the team working on reopening plans finished plans for the hybrid model for teaching student split between in-class and distance learning.
“We want to be ready when we can transition back and have kids in our buildings,” Kellison said.
That will be contingent on COVID-19 case counts decreasing to standards established by the state. Kellison said those numbers are monitored weekly and the district will be prepared to bring students back in a hybrid model as soon as they are able.
“We are constantly monitoring the severity of COVID-19 in cooperation with the Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Department of Education,” Kellison said.
In the meantime, Dallas has crafted a plan to teach students remotely. Kellison said it will be different than what was done in the fall.
School staff will undergo significant training between Aug. 31 and Sept. 18. Students and parents will also have to go through training on the new online learning system, Canvas.
“We are working on some other parent support and different things for families to help them be more comfortable with that system,” Kellison said.
Students will have the option of participating in live teaching session on Zoom or view them when they are posted to the Canvas system. As long as schoolwork is completed, both options count as students attending class.
“It’s much more interactive than some of the things we were able to do in the spring because of Zoom and Canvas platforms. Students will participate in live sessions, where they can ask questions of teachers,” Kellison said. “We are going to use a more defined schedule in all buildings so that students have a really clear idea of where they are supposed to be and at what time.”
District received updated guidance from ODE about teaching students with special needs after Monday’s meeting.
“We will have support from specialists during comprehensive distance learning. We are waiting for more direction from ODE about what that looks like and when we can bring students in,” Kellison said. “We know that our population that has special needs in the classroom, we need access to those students sometimes. We need to be able to give them assessments and check their progress and have meetings and different things.”
The district will continue to provide meals to student, even if they are not on campus. Dallas plans to expand meal deliveries with use of school buses.
“We will have at least two buses every day, very likely between 10 in the morning and noon, distributing breakfast and lunch meals,” Superintendent Andy Bellando said.
Stops would be short for bus route deliveries, but times would be posted for families.
“We are definitely going to expand our food service distribution options,” Bellando said.
Board member Mike Blanchard asked if it is possible to delay the beginning of school so students, especially younger students, can have more in-class time.
“I look at our calendar and our schedule, and my one concern is that this type of learning is probably not going to be that valuable for anyone kindergarten through second, third, fourth grade,” Blanchard said. “And transitioning back and forth may be even worse.”
Bellando said that has been discussed, but parent feedback indicated that families prefer that classes begin as close to the traditional back to school time as possible.
“Another two or three weeks of delay, and pushing back is probably a significant amount of in-person instructional time for definitely those K-3 kids,” he said.
He noted that Oregon School Activities Association approved a schedule for sports that runs through June 27 already.
Bellando said without certainty of case count reductions, it would be hard to determine if waiting would be beneficial.
“The other piece is there are no guarantees and I guess that is where I land as well,” Bellando said. “We could be looking at mid-October and well, we have another two months of this before we can bring K-3 kids back.”
The board unanimously approved the district reopening plan.