MEDFORD, Ore. — Students of the Medford School District will begin the 2020-21 school year with fully remote learning, but Superintendent Dr. Bret Champion says that administrators plan to reassess on a "predictable rhythm" to determine if students can return to class in person.
Oregon school districts have been rapidly modifying their plans for the fall after Governor Kate Brown revealed the state's coronavirus metrics for school reopening on July 28. Dr. Champion said shortly following that announcement that Medford's plans had been "upended" somewhat by those metrics, and the District has been working on a new strategy ever since.
On Wednesday, the Medford School District released its new plans, which will began with all K-12 students learning remotely via Comprehensive Distance Learning.
Dr. Champion said that the District has used a color-coded system to separate the three levels of instruction stipulated by Oregon's metrics. "Green" would allow for all students to have in-person classes, "Yellow" would be only in-person for K-3 students, and "Red" equates to fully remote learning.
As of this week, Medford School District is now in the "Red" based on the number of recent COVID-19 cases in Jackson County alone, Dr. Champion said. Last week, Jackson County's case rate per 100,000 shot up to 42.5, with a test positivity rate of 5.6 percent — both metrics above Oregon's criteria for any in-person learning.
The same metrics currently keeping Medford School District from returning with in-person classes will also affect other school districts in Jackson County, some of which had tentatively planned to start the year with grades K-3 in class.
“Right now, we are very, very, very far from Green,” Dr. Champion underscored.
For that reason, all Medford K-12 students will start school remotely — for at least the first six weeks. However, the District plans to keep revisiting those metrics every three weeks, with the possibility of shifting students back to in-person classes after six weeks.
In theory, the "rhythm" will work like this:
- All Medford K-12 students begin the year learning remotely.
- After three weeks, school officials will take a look at the metrics. If Jackson County has solidly returned to "Yellow" or "Green" for those three weeks, teachers and staff will prepare for students to begin in-person classes three weeks later.
- If those favorable metrics hold, students return to in-person classes — either all students if in the "Green," or K-3 if in the "Yellow."
Like some other local districts, Medford has also launched an online-only learning method that functions separately, dubbed Medford Online Academy. So far, 600 students have signed up for the program, which caters to families who prefer online learning to potential in-person classes.
For students who are in the general population — at the very least beginning the year with Comprehensive Distance Learning — classes will be led by teachers in fairly typical class style for the first half of each day, using Zoom and Canvas to interface. The other half of each school day will be dedicated to other, independent projects or having one-on-one time with teachers.
“You don’t want a kid on Zoom for seven hours every day,” Dr. Champion said.
School begins for Medford School District students on September 8, which means the District will be releasing its first metrics assessment on September 29. The soonest that students could return to in-person classes would be on October 19.
This is a developing story, and will be updated with more details as they emerge.