Schools stay nimble as pandemic worsens | Education

COOS COUNTY — Reopening school in the fall has been a “moving target,” North Bend School District Superintendent Kevin Bogatin said.

He, along with other school districts in the county, are in the process of reviewing the new metrics sent out by the state that will determine how school is reopened in September. As of now, it looks like most schools will start the new year off with distance learning, with some exceptions.

“This is a moving target, but I think we’re becoming used to it,” Bogatin said. “People recognize we need to be nimble.”

“Right now we’re digesting the message and determining how it applies to our county and individual school districts,” said Tenneal Wetherell, superintendent at South Coast Education Service District. “We’re trying to clarify the wording and reasoning and how it applies to us.”

These metrics include not being able to open if the state’s positivity rate is 5% or higher, a number Oregon has been at recently.

But Wetherell pointed out that if a county meets four requirements, then kindergarten through third grade can return to school. Those four requirements are: COVID-19 is not actively spreading in the school community, if the case rate in the county is less than 30 cases per 100,000 in the population for three weeks, if the test positivity in the county is less than 5% for three weeks, and if schools comply with the Ready School Safe Learner Guidance.

But for grades 4 through 12, Wetherell said they will have to start the new school year with distance learning or the online education models schools developed when the pandemic hit in the spring.

“… (There would be) limited instruction availability on-site for specific classes and courses,” Wetherell said. “At this point, the guidance is saying the majority of Oregon students will not go back on site even in a hybrid methodology.”

North Bend School District

Bogatin said he is also looking for further clarification on the metrics from the state, but recognized as of now that the district may have no choice but to start school online.

But the exception of opening to in-class learning for kindergarten through third grade may be expanded to kindergarten through fifth grade, he said.

“This may change, so I will remain hopeful that at the elementary level we may have in-person instruction at least part time,” he said, adding that potentially starting off the year with distancing learning may not be a bad thing. “…It will prepare us so we are ready if things get worse or if we have an outbreak and need a successful transition from in-class to distance learning. I’m encouraging the staff to think the same way.”

In the spring when the district was forced to transition to distance learning, Bogatin said there were some problems. Some students were overwhelmed with having to meet with seven teachers online and some other students didn’t participate.

“We had a group of kids we didn’t connect with and we’re moving into this (new school year) with that not being acceptable,” he said.

If schools are allowed to return to classes, he said North Bend Schools has worked on reducing the number of students in classrooms at any given time and schedules with gaps between morning and afternoon sessions to allow for cleaning and sanitizing.

“We’re looking at pretty clear guidance on how to flow through the building to avoid bottlenecks and kids passing each other, schedules for playground use and sanitizing equipment, spreading kids out and keeping cohorts small,” he said.

Bogatin added that the district ordered Personal Protective Equipment and masks, which are in stock at the district office to be distributed, while the state is expected to also send masks soon.

“We have plastic barriers to protect our front office for another level of precaution that will be installed prior to September,” he said.

In the meantime, he said the district is working to engage staff in the next week or two to get feedback on what teachers want to see so they are safe.

“I welcome that feedback,” he said. “The school year will come on us quickly but we have time to fine tune the plans.”

In Coquille, Superintendent Tim Sweeney said he is also processing the new information from Gov. Kate Brown and plans on meeting with his administrative team to sort out details.

“At the moment it does not feel like we’ll open in-person school in September as I read the tea leaves,” he said. “I’m disappointed. I think our kids and families will be disappointed. We understand the thinking behind it, aren’t disappointed with the decision but that we can’t open school. I know the governor is well aware our kids need to be in school, it is just an unfortunate situation for everyone.”

He said distance learning will look much like it did in the spring.

“We’re good at (distance learning) in Coquille,” he said. “We certainly have a strong background in distance learning and have great teachers who will make great things happen.”

He added that he just doesn’t know how long the distance learning will be required. Sweeney hopes to have students in a hybrid model, part online and part in the classroom, by at least mid-October. Of course, nothing is certain at this point.

The Bandon School District had earlier announced initial plans for an online-onsite hybrid for the upcoming school year, but specific plans are still undecided.

A message was posted on Facebook on Wednesday on behalf of Superintendent Doug Ardiana following Gov. Brown’s announcement.

“Governor Brown made an announcement today including specific health metrics required for reopening schools for in person instruction,” stated the post. “Your administrative team is reviewing those metrics, learning more about interpreting the data for our community, and will be sharing more information as our plans solidify.”

The district will present its plan to the Bandon School Board at its regular meeting beginning at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 10, in the Bandon High School library and via Zoom and live on the district’s Facebook page. Any public comment on this or any other agenda item should be sent in advance to district secretary Rachel Hernandez at rachelh@bandon.k12.or.us.

Meanwhile, district parents of children entering grades K-5 are being asked to complete an online survey to help inform Bandon School District administration of family intent to return and the format with which they are most comfortable for their child to engage in their education.

“We are looking at both onsite and distance options,” Ardiana said. “Distance learning in the 2020-21 school year will be more robust and have more requirements than the ‘crisis education’ of our spring Distance Learning for All as we know that the spring experience was a challenge for all and did not provide the level of education that we expect for our children. We will use this information as we make final decisions for the 2020-21 school year.”

As the smallest school district in Coos County, Powers Schools isn’t sure if it will also be forced to distance learning to start the new school year or if it will make the exception to open in-person.

“I think Powers might be one of the few schools west of I-5 that qualify for exception,” said Matt Shorb, superintendent for the district. “I’ve been talking with people at the state who are working on amending the exemptions.”

Right now, schools with less than 100 students in a district possibly qualify for in-person classes. Powers ended the school year in the spring with 121 students.

“But we have two different buildings,” Shorb said. “The elementary and high school building … neither has close to 100 students in each. If (the state) could change (the exemption) to look at buildings instead of districts, that would certainly help us.”

In a survey from the district, Shorb said families want school to reopen as usual.

“It’s challenging because it changes so frequently,” he said. “We were asked to develop reopening blueprints and ours is done but it’s just going to change. Everything is changing so quickly it’s hard to speculate what it will look like a month from now. … I never would have thought back in March when this started we’d still be talking about this in August.”

In a press release from the Coos Bay School District following the state’s new metrics being announced, it promised families that it is working hard to prepare for the fall term.

“…We are making plans for two possible re-openings in fall,” the release said, stating it will either be an AM/PM hybrid model which allows in-person learning or a full-time comprehensive distance learning model.

“As a county, and state, we need to meet certain metrics in order to open in-person school,” the release said. “If school started today we would not meet the metrics. However, we are not into August yet.”

In the meantime, the district stated it will continue to plan its hybrid model as well as a distance learning model.

The World reached out to the Myrtle Point School District for comment, but did not hear back by deadline.

Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 236, or by email at worldnews1@countrymedia.net. Follow her on Twitter: @je_wardwriter.

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