As schools get further into the year, the possibility of returning students to in-person learning is becoming more likely. There is no definite return date, or decision yet if schools will remain online or begin transitioning into hybrid learning, but administration, teachers, and parents are preparing for this possibility.
According to a Parentsquare update from superintendent Aaron Bayer, “Recently, families were asked for their feedback regarding the state metrics and protocols for reopening schools. 2330 surveys were completed, with 80% of parents stating they would send their students back to in-person learning if given the chance.” Clearly, most Oregon Trail School District parents are ready to end distance learning that has existed since last March.
The first step towards returning to in-person learning happened in December when Gov. Kate Brown changed the state guidelines for online school from “mandatory” to “advisory.” This means that each district can make their own choice to return to school depending on case levels. Some students have been able to begin the process of going back to school already. Hybrid schedule will have students alternate days coming to school and staying home and participating online. This will limit the number of students in the building and allow for more social distancing. This will be done alphabetically, A-L one day, and M-Z the other.
According to Bayer’s update, “In the meantime, we will begin implementing Limited In-Person Instruction (LIPI) for Seniors at risk for not graduating and for some of our most vulnerable students. In addition, we will continue to evaluate directives from the state in an attempt to begin opening schools in a Hybrid Model by mid-February.” The district has not elaborated on whether the initial opening for hybrid learning would include all students or just certain grades.
Schools in the Oregon Trail School District have been taking precautions to prepare facilities for reopening and allowing students to return to school. There are strict guidelines they must follow so that teachers and students will remain safe.
“There are a substantial number of signs reminding students to stay socially distanced while traveling in the halls as well as which side of a hall to travel on. There are hand sanitizer stations placed throughout the school. Students and staff will need to wear face coverings while they are in the building as well as strive for six feet of social distancing at all times,” SHS principal Kimberly Ball said.
The Oregon Education Association has proposed that prior to students attending school again, all teachers will have the opportunity to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Brown accepted the proposal, which means that starting Jan. 23 educators will also be eligible for the vaccine. Wy’east, the local teachers’ union, also requested that hybrid school not begin until all staff had the opportunity to get vaccinated and local Covid case numbers go down.
Many of the typical things students would do everyday at school will be dramatically changed or taken out of their routine if schools open back up. Assistant Principal Sarah Dorn said that with students returning to school, lunch will probably be “grab and go” so students would eat their lunches at home. And assemblies will depend on regulations from the Oregon Department of Education, but will most likely be virtual and viewed during advisory. Students will not be able to gather in big groups to talk to their friends, eat lunch together, sit side by side, or even be in the same class as friends.
“We expect students to have a specified area, whether in the commons or in a hallway, where they would need to sit if they arrive at school earlier than right before class begins,” Ball said.
Returning students to school will be like learning how to attend public school all over again. It will be a difficult task, but with the ease of beginning the transition to hybrid learning before returning all students to school, it will keep students, teachers, and faculty safe.