SALEM, Ore. — The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) on Wednesday released its long-awaited guidance for schools that are looking ahead to a new school year amid the continued threat of coronavirus, following months of ambiguity.
Under the guidance, each district in the state will work to develop its own plan, an "Operational Blueprint for Reentry" that could consist of bringing students back to the classroom, continuing distance learning, or creating a hybrid learning model.
Districts will also have to develop communicable disease management plans in the event of COVID-19 outbreaks at a school, being ready to return to distance learning or modify school calendars if that happens.
“This model, developed under Governor Brown’s leadership, provides statewide guidance that each school district will use independently to plan for the education and safety of students during the 2020-21 school year," said ODE director Colt Gill. "We understand and honor the importance of local voice, leadership and control. These individual plans will reflect the distinct strengths and needs of each district and community.”
Before the beginning of the school year, the plan developed by each district must be reviewed by the local school board and made available to the community on the district website, ODE said. Schools within a given district will decide what form their education will take, under the direction of the district.
ODE said that its guidance, "Ready Schools, Safe Learners," will continue to evolve over the year as districts, public health agencies, and community feedback.
“I appreciate the extensive planning given to the return to school for our children and school staff,” said Oregon Parent Teacher Association President Kristi Dille. “We know the new school year will look different but using the best information from educators, health care leaders and science brings hope for a safe and healthy return to school. The ODE/OHA guidance recognizes local health and education needs and guide a healthy and positive way for us to return to the classroom.”
The current guidance plan requires schools to "establish a minimum of 35 square feet per person" when figuring out room capacity for in-classroom learning, in addition to other methods of enforcing physical distancing. Schools would also be required to visually screen students and staff for symptoms of concern before they enter the school every day.
At the same time that ODE released its guidance, Governor Kate Brown announced that she will form a council to advise her and ODE on the reopening process, with a focus on historically underserved communities.
"This disease impacts us all. With this council, we will gather input from teachers, educators, support staff, parents, caregivers, administrators, and health care experts, from urban and rural school districts, to ensure that the Ready Schools, Safe Learners process is equitable and inclusive of all community perspectives," Brown said.
This is a developing story and will be updated with more details as they emerge.