MEDFORD, Ore. — Some southern Oregon school districts have already begun to roll out drafts of their back-to-school plans, but new Oregon Department of Education guidance released Wednesday sent a clear signal that the state's requirements will continue to evolve — forcing districts to adapt on the fly.
Governor Kate Brown announced that face covering requirements in the state will be expanded to include children 5 and older, and ODE incorporated this new mandate into its latest guidance for schools. It's unlikely to be the last major chance before school begins.
Medford School District Superintendent Dr. Bret Champion held a meeting with local media shortly after the ODE announcement, fielding questions about the District's plans going forward:
Kids and the new face covering requirement
Dr. Champion acknowledged concerns that younger kids might resist face coverings. MSD will be purchasing face masks and face shields for all students in the district, and on-site schedules will include "face covering breaks" outside for kids, particularly the younger ones.
Indoor gathering limit of 100 and how it applies to schools
For elementary school students — who MSD plans to have in school full-time — the existing building and transportation plans would keep capacity in a given area below 100, Dr. Champion said. Transportation and meals pose the greatest challenge, and MSD has been consulting with health officials on how to proceed.
Will ODE guidance change right before school starts?
As plans evolve, parameters can change, Dr. Champion said. The District is hoping for clear guidelines sooner rather than later to decided whether to proceed with on-site learning. If learning is moved remotely at ODE's insistence, districts need to know as soon as possible.
What are Oregon's metrics for allowing on-site learning?
"That's the million dollar question, and we need to know that as soon as possible." MSD is ready to pivot, but Oregon's metrics have yet to be revealed. California has some metrics in place. Dr. Champion says that he is gathering more feedback from staff and parents, and begs for people to have patience with the District.
'Back to class, but not back to school'
Educators are suggesting that ODE consider guidance in the state by region, so that places with a lower risk of coronavirus have added latitude for returning to school. Dr. Champion said that he expects that to be a factor in the metrics.
Backup plans for transportation and meal times
MSD is considering installation of plexiglass on buses to improve safety. The District does not have enough buses to keep students 6 feet apart at all times. MSD is also evaluating walk-to-school options.
The District is also looking at other options for meals — perhaps having students eat in classrooms, "grab and go" lunches, and other possibilities.
Class sizes and social distancing
Dr. Champion says that staff have checked every classroom in the district to determine capacity with ODE's requirement that every student have 35 square feet of room. For elementary schools without enough space, 5th and 6th graders will be moved to a new location to allow for more room at elementary schools.
Likelihood of distance-only learning in the fall
"Nothing is off the table." If classes are totally digital, the strategy will be "ten times better" than it was at the end of spring. Dr. Champion said that the adjustment worked in spring, but MSD learned from the experience and will have a better digital learning experience ready in the fall.
MSD is working on strategies to help those that struggle most with distance learning.
Parents can also opt to have their children enroll in online-only learning with "Medford Online."
Sports and extracurriculars
OSAA is set to provide more guidance later this week. Some contact sports may be delayed until spring, as Washington state has done, but MSD doesn't know yet what OSAA will propose.
Normal face covering and distancing guidelines will apply to sports.