LINCOLN COUNTY — In-person classes for the Lincoln County School District won’t begin in September and might be foregone until November or later.
Superintendent Karen Gray told parents during a forum held via Zoom on Wednesday night that the 2020-21 school year would commence online in late September. The district plans for nine weeks of fully remote instruction — they could phase in a hybrid model, with two blocks of students each attending school two days a week, at the end of that period, or even before, depending on the local spread of COVID-19.
Gray had already alerted the school board to the likelihood of delaying the hybrid model during its regular meeting July 21. Her confirmation of those plans followed the Tuesday announcement of reopening metrics by the Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Department of Education, which only allow districts to bring students back into buildings if the counties in which they are located have 10 or fewer new coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents weekly for three straight weeks, as well as a positivity rate of 5 percent or less for the same period. The whole state must also have three straight weeks with a positivity rate of 5 percent or less for any district to resume in-person instruction.
“Teachers will be in school. Kids won’t be in school until we feel it is safe for us to be able to slowly roll out a hybrid program, either during that nine weeks or after that nine weeks,” Gray told parents during the forum. “Our goal will be: first two weeks, connect and train, meet with families and teachers. Weeks three through nine, we’re teaching five days a week.”
Families will have two options, Gray said. Students can participate in “comprehensive distance learning,” with curriculum created by teachers, who record lessons and work with students remotely; or they can sign up for Edmentum, “a fully fleshed-out, K-12 online school.” Gray said if parents aren’t satisfied with the option they choose first, they can switch at the nine-week mark.
The superintendent distinguished the coming term’s model from the distance learning conducted to finish the 2019-20 term, which she said attempted to incorporate new material but ended up being largely comprised of review, with only one day a week of active teaching. “It is not a one-day-a-week program like we were doing. I just want to point out, our teachers worked incredibly hard with absolutely no notice. We were told on a Friday we were done in person, and we never went back. We also didn’t grade our work. We didn’t take attendance very much, and that all changes with comprehensive distance learning. In that case, attendance is taken, grades are given, it is a much higher standard,” Gray said. “Parents are worried that it’s not going to be robust, that it’s going to have a low bar, that there isn’t going to he the high bar of standards of education that they want to see. We are having conversations with professional development to really work with our staff on how to kick it up a notch so that it really is new learning following the standards and assessed by regular assessment methods.”
Gray fielded questions from parents participating in the Zoom forum. One asked about the possibility of returning to the district if they opt for homeschooling to begin the term. “Anybody who goes to an online charter or homeschool that wants to come back, as far as I’m concerned, you can come back anytime you like,” Gray said. She noted that the district had already reached its statutory 3 percent limit for the number of students that could enroll in online charter schools. She said about 50 people had sought that option and been denied because of the limitation.
In response to a question about how parents and their students can access additional help and seek specific clarifications, Gray called upon Katie Barrett, the district’s director of elementary education. Barrett said, “I want to make sure we’re clear — we’re not asking the parents to teach. We’re having our teachers teach. They’ll be recording lessons that students will be able to watch. They’ll have time that they’ll be able to meet kids in real time for just what you’re talking about — support, clarifying any misconceptions, maybe making sure that they’re understanding and able to do the practice work that goes with it, and they’ll be taking care of the assessment and the grading. Things are happening at home, yes, and parents may need to help a younger student get on the computer, but in no way are we asking parents to do the teaching.”
Gray said they were also working to address barriers to accessing online learning. She noted that a large percentage of the student body does not speak English and would need accommodation, and she said their experience implementing distance learning at the end of last school year had provided them with a list of every student who did not have at-home access to the internet, an obvious prerequisite of participating in online learning. Some of those students had been provided with mobile hotspots and phones with broadband access, and the district was working to expand on those provisions for the coming term.
The superintendent said teachers would be building in opportunities for social engagement for students, and she acknowledged that none of the options available were ideal. “None of these are good. None of these will fit the bill. None of this is good for kids, except to be able to keep people healthy and safe physically. But mentally, emotionally and socially, we’re going to have to do some real clean up when this is over, for our teachers, for our families and for our children,” she said.