Parents and community members throughout Douglas County are ready to get children back to schools according to multiple surveys, and school districts are working to figure out how to make that happen while coronavirus restrictions remain in place.
A survey by the Douglas Education Service District about returning to school received 1,957 responses where 43% said they were extremely comfortable, 28% felt comfortable, 14% felt neither comfortable nor uncomfortable, 10% felt uncomfortable and 6% felt extremely uncomfortable about in-person classes.
“The majority of respondents (81%) responded that they were most looking forward to their children being able to see their friends again,” DESD Assistant Superintendent Analicia Nicolson said. “Many respondents also looked forward to returning to a better work/life balance.”
Roseburg Public Schools is hoping to have in-person classes for kindergarten through fifth grade, but found it impossible to do the same for sixth through 12th grade and will likely have a hybrid model.
Many other districts are preparing for as much in-person classes as possible.
“Across Douglas County, we have heard overwhelmingly from students and families that they wish schools to return to on-site learning with the hope that schools follow a traditional schedule, as much as possible,” South Umpqua School District Superintendent Kate McLaughlin said. “We are balancing these wishes of our students and community with the need to also provide a safe and healthy environment for all students.”
But even as schools prepare, districts will realistically have to come up with three plans.
“We really need to have three plans and be ready to shift back and forth,” said Michelle Knee, director of teaching and learning for Roseburg Public Schools.
Oregon Department of Education and Oregon Health Authority released guidance on reopening public and private schools on June 10 with the title “Ready Schools, Safe Learners.”
The guidance would allow schools to choose between in-person classes, distance learning and a hybrid between those two models.
Winston-Dillard School District is hoping to start on-site education, but be flexible in their plans to allow for sudden changes. “The virus will determine where we’ll end up,” Winston-Dillard School District Superintendent Kevin Miller said.
Schools throughout the county will have an option for virtual learning available for those families who don’t feel safe going back to schools.
“The hope is that we can be flexible and effective in designing instruction that fits the needs of all learners,” Elkton School District Andy Boe said. “This includes families that are not ready to send students back, or students who are displaying symptoms that require them to stay home.”
Ultimately the local health authority, Douglas Public Health Network, will decide which plan to use.
It’s going to be a great experiment when we start schools,” Douglas County Public Health Official Dr. Bob Dannenhoffer said. “In other countries that have done this, they have found that they can open up their elementary schools with little risk either for students or for the general population. I’m optimistic that opening schools will be successful. I’m less optimistic that older people are going to their jobs. I still don’t see a lot of people social distancing and I still don’t see a lot of mask use, so I’d really encourage people to stay home if you’re sick, socially distance, avoid crowds — especially indoors — wear a mask and wash your hands.”
Roseburg school district hopes to have its district plan ready by July 15, giving the individual schools a month to prepare plans which are due to the Oregon Department of Education by the Aug. 15 deadline.
Roseburg will leave its survey open until then and Douglas Education Service District plans to survey families a few more times throughout the summer to see if feelings may change as the pandemic evolves.
Guidance from the department of education is expected to be updated every two weeks leading up to the deadline.
In addition to creating plans on where students and staff will be in the fall, there are several other things districts will have to keep in mind before reopening:
InstructionRoseburg Public Schools Superintendent Jared Cordon said the district anticipates students will be about six months to a year behind the average when schools start in the fall, due to the rapid closure last year.
Knee said students will be assessed early on in the year to see where the gaps are in their learning, but Roseburg school district is focusing on acceleration not remediation.
“We can’t teach from March on, because the we’ll stay behind,” Knee said. “We have to keep moving forward.”
When schools were closed in mid-March, many of Oregon’s districts were not ready for online learning and teachers were using different programs to teach which caused consternation for parents, students and teachers.
Roseburg Public Schools will be using the learning management system Canvas in the fall for sixth through 12th grade to streamline the education. Kindergarten through fifth grade will be using Google Classrooms.
All teachers will go through professional development on those software programs prior to the beginning of the school year.
StaffingWhen school closed in mid-March, Gov. Kate Brown said the decision was made after meeting with superintendents and learning that schools were pushed “to the breaking point” and unable to operate efficiently due to “staffing challenges.”
In a teleconference Friday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said school closures during the rest of M…
Cordon said in the Roseburg school district there are 238 staff members who were deemed at-risk for COVID-19.
School districts around the state are still awaiting guidance from the department of education on how to address this portion of the workforce.
“I can’t afford to pay people who aren’t working,” Cordon said. He also said paying people who are not sick, but could get sick was not a sustainable precedent.
The Oregon Education Association said, “Districts should ensure that any educator or student who is considered to be of high risk of infection, or who lives with or cares for an individual who is at high risk, be allowed to remain home in order to protect their own health and the health of their families.” It also argued that educators who were not able to report to schools should be placed on administrative leave and kept financially whole.
InsuranceAnother hiccup in reopening is a change in the insurance policy from most schools.
PACE, the insurance company used by most school districts, issued a statement that as of July 1 “claims arising from communicable diseases such as COVID-19 will be entirely excluded from PACE coverage.”
This means if there was an outbreak of coronavirus that could be linked back to a school, a person could file a lawsuit against a district.
“Part of the reopening plan will take into account the liability,” Cordon said. “We don’t have a $10 million retainer.”
As businesses begin to welcome customers back and schools prepare to reopen in the fall, som…
A coalition of organization are asking the state Legislature to pass laws protecting businesses and organizations from COVID-19 lawsuits.
Rep Cheri Helt, R-Bend, said, “We need to ensure that excessive and unrealistic state rules and lack of insurance coverage don’t make it impossible for schools to safely re-open in a new way this Fall. Failure to open is unacceptable and unfair to all our kids and families. We cannot sacrifice two years of learning to fear and lack of creativity. Local districts should be allowed to design safe classroom learning experiences. Until a vaccine arrives, our schools must adapt so every kids can learn, grow and achieve. This virus is temporary, their education is not.”
State Sen. Dallas Heard, R-Winston, previously told The News-Review he would need to see proposed legislation before he could decide whether to support it. While he said he’s sympathetic to the concerns of small business owners, he also sounded a note of caution.
Heard said he’s reluctant to take away individuals’ right to sue organizations whose actions have harmed them, especially where the defendants are large corporations or government entities.
Staying safeAbove all else, the priority will be to stay safe which means there will be restrictions when children return to school.
“The top priority of Douglas ESD and our local school districts continues to be maintaining the health and safety of our students, families, staff and communities,” Nicholson said.
To reopen, all schools will have to submit an Operational Blueprint for Reentry, which need to address eight essentials: public health protocols, facilities and school operations, response to outbreak, equity, instruction, family and community engagement, staffing and personnel, and mental, social, and emotional health.
Dannenhoffer has met with public school superintendents several times and will continue to consult with them throughout the summer. Dannenhoffer said private school administrators had not reached out yet, but he’d be available to help them too.
Although work has started on making sure learning environments are safe, Douglas Public Health Network is still awaiting more guidance from the state to learn what metrics will be used to make changes once schools start.
“We don’t have those details from the state on how we’re going to classify outbreaks,” Dannenhoffer said. “We know about outbreaks in other types of situations where we usually talk about three or more in an area, but it’d be difficult to see how we define an area.”
One of the strategies for reducing the spread is creating groups of students who will remain together throughout the day with minimal interaction with others.
It’s recommended that staff who go between these groups wear face coverings. Students are not required to wear face coverings, but it is recommended for sixth through 12th grade.
Schools will also have additional cleaning methods in place.
All students and staff will be screened before entering a school, but those plans will be developed by each individual school and differ based on layout, available staff and other factors.
Oregon Department of Education determined laboratories, career and technical education, performing arts and physical education to be classes at a higher risk for disease spread.
“It’s going to be a harder lift this year,” Cordon said. “The community was gracious last year, but they won’t be so gracious this year.”