LINCOLN COUNTY — In a recent update sent to Lincoln County School District parents and staff, Superintendent Karen Gray said students would be split into two “blocks” for the 2020-21 academic year and attend class on alternate days.
The Oregon Department of Education and Oregon Health Authority guidance for resuming K-12 classes for the coming school year, entitled “Ready Schools, Safe Learners,” allows schools to choose between three models: 100 percent distance learning, 100 percent on-site instruction or a hybrid of the two.
For those that elect to bring students back to school buildings, the state prescribes rigorous requirements for sanitation, daily logs for contact tracing and a system that ensures physical distancing. Among the most restrictive is that students be organized into cohorts — groups of students that are consistently in contact with each other and enable 35 square feet for each person within a given space. That requirement prompted the district to choose the hybrid option, Gray wrote in her update on Tuesday.
The district has too many students to satisfy the distancing requirement with all of them at school every day, Gray said, noting that this applies to most systems in the state, so they’ll be split into an “A” block and a “B” block, with one block attending school on Monday and Thursday, and the other in class on Tuesday and Friday (Gray said a half day on Wednesday may be scheduled to address special needs and student interventions). They’ll participate in distance learning on the other three days. Gray said the district would try to schedule students in blocks as families to minimize disruption in child care for working parents, and meals will be sent home for the days kids are not physically in school.
“One positive of this new model is that students will have smaller class sizes while this model is in place. This will allow for more individualized attention,” Gray wrote in her update. “For those of you wondering why we don’t go back to 100 percent distance learning online, it is because that did not work effectively for the majority of our students. It worked OK for some but not that many. It was especially difficult for younger students. Students need to interact with their teachers in order to build trusting relationships and work environments in a classroom in order to participate fully in learning. Left on their own, especially younger students become lost and disoriented. They need to be a part of a classroom environment specially designed for their individual learning needs. You simply cannot do that when education is all online.”
The resumption of high school athletics in the fall is still an open question, Gray said. “Again, if we cannot assure that we are able to be compliant with the guidelines for student safety, we cannot do it.”
The district has scheduled online meetings to give more information and provide an opportunity for parents to offer feedback (the first 45 minutes of each meeting will be for staff only):
• Toledo — July 22, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. (Zoom link: https://zoom.us/j/97028035861)
• Waldport — July 23, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. (Zoom link: https://zoom.us/j/94590149827)
• Lincoln City/Taft — July 28, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. (Zoom link: https://zoom.us/j/9612823923 )
• Newport — July 29, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. (Zoom link: https://zoom.us/j/92660283061)
Gray also noted in her update that cuts to the school district budget due to a revenue shortfall at the state level meant there would be as many as 10 furlough days for staff. Gov. Kate Brown said in a press conference last Saturday she does expect the state Student Investment Account, accrued through a gross receipts tax under the Student Success Act, would be funded at the level anticipated prior to the pandemic. According to a plan approved by the Lincoln County School District Board of Directors at the end of March, the district plans to use its $4.5 million allotment of those funds on initiatives focused on equity, inclusion and safety, with a goal of improving attendance and graduation rates by 5 and 3 percent, respectively.
School is scheduled to start on Thursday, Sept. 10, for A block students, and B block students will begin class Sept. 11. The governor said in a press conference on Wednesday that the resumption of in-person classes was dependent on the progression of the COVID-19 pandemic during the intervening months. Addressing public compliance with a new, statewide face covering mandate, as well as her extension of the state of emergency until Sept. 4, Brown said, “Your actions will determine whether our businesses across the state can stay open, and your actions will determine, frankly, whether we can open schools in the fall.”