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ODE move causes valley-wide ripples

The Oregon Department of Education’s latest update to its COVID-19 guidance has sent most Jackson County school districts outside Medford back to the drawing board, and like Medford it appears that most students in those surrounding towns who choose to do so will be attending school full-time within three weeks.

Medford School District Superintendent Bret Champion announced Monday afternoon that his district will move toward reopening schools fully in the wake of the ODE’s bombshell that morning, and on Tuesday other districts throughout the valley revealed their own first steps.

In Central Point, following an emergency spring break meeting with administrators Tuesday, Superintendent Samantha Steele said every student in that district will have the option of returning to schools full-time four days a week by April 12, with elementary students starting that transition April 5. That’s a major increase in in-person instruction in a district which currently offers only a hybrid combination of in-person and Comprehensive Distance Learning for the vast majority of its middle- and high-school students and three out of five elementary schools.

“I’m thrilled,” Steele said of the ODE’s decision, which lowered the physical distancing requirement between students in schools from 6 feet to 3 feet, following new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Since the CDC began sharing the shift from 6 feet to 3 feet, I’ve heard from a lot of families, I’ve heard from staff who are interested in getting kids back. So we’re excited.”

In Eagle Point, Superintendent Andy Kovach said the timing of the announcement isn’t ideal, but the tentative plan is to make full in-person instruction available to every student in the district five days a week starting the first day of the fourth quarter, April 12. Eagle Point students in kindergarten through fifth grade have been attending school in-person five full days a week since Jan. 25, but middle- and high-school students there have been limited to two or three days a week in-person on an A/B schedule.

“We’re in spring break, so a lot of the people that need to be involved with coordinating that and coming down on the final ‘exactly what it is’ are not available at the moment,” Kovach said. “But we had known that this was kind of coming down the pike and could be hitting us anytime between now and the start of our fourth quarter ... so our plan prior to spring break had been, ‘OK, if this doesn’t arrive before April 12, what changes are we making within the (ODE guidance) that we just need to make,’ because we know we need to improve on what we had begun in January.”

“So the middle school is probably the most straightforward for us. We think we are going to be able to bring kids back in five days a week, and we’re looking at a start date again as the beginning of the fourth quarter, April 12.”

Things are a little murkier in the Phoenix-Talent School District. Superintendent Brent Barry sent out an email to his staff Tuesday morning that explained what the new guidance meant for the district and what was being done this week to prepare. More work is coming after spring break, he indicated, although what it may mean for students remains unclear. Phoenix-Talent students are currently on a hybrid schedule, although elementary students have the option to attend classes in-person four days a week.

“This is good news in the sense that we can begin to plan for more in-person learning in each classroom, but it also presents some logistical challenges that need to be problem-solved,” Barry wrote in the email. “I am asking the blueprint teams to get together next week and look at the possibilities of implementing this new guideline and what it means to each school. (Planning is currently being done this week on room capacity).”

Ashland School District Superintendent Samuel Bogdanove was unavailable for comment.

In Central Point, Patrick Elementary and Sams Valley Elementary were already offering students in-person instruction four days a week, but starting April 5 Central Point Elementary, Mae Richardson Elementary and Jewett Elementary will too. Crater Renaissance, one of three schools that comprise Crater High School, already is offering in-person instruction four days a week, but starting April 12 so will Crater School of Business, Innovation and Science and Crater Academy of Health and Public Service. Barring a setback, Hanby Middle School and Scenic Middle School will also begin a new full in-person schedule four days a week starting April 12.

Central Point will continue to leave one remote-learning day per week — Wednesday at every school — to fulfill the state-mandated requirement to provide a CDL option for families.

Schedules will likely look different from school to school, Steele said, but that’s unavoidable.

“It may look a little bit different at Scenic Middle School than the high school,” she said, “but once you have those schedules — and when I say schedule now I’m talking about an individual kid’s class schedule locked in — it’s not too easy to change midterm. So they’re looking at what that might look like at secondary. But for sure, beginning April 12 every kid sixth- through 12th-grade will at least have the option to be in school in-person four days a week.”

In Eagle Point, the new guidance will allow for classes at the elementary schools, which have been necessarily split apart, to be reunited. Bringing back every K-5 student five days a week required some classes to be divided, with some cohorts using classrooms and others parking in improvised learning spaces like libraries or cafeterias. That practice will come to an end soon, Kovach said.

Making the switch from the current hybrid schedule to full in-person five days a week will be fairly straightforward at the Eagle Point middle schools — Eagle Point Middle School and White Mountain Middle School — but not so much at the high school. Part of the reason has to do with scheduling, but another factor is the sheer number of students, particularly seniors, who are struggling to pass classes.

That’s why, Kovach says, the district has decided to turn Wednesday at Eagle Point High into an in-person day only for those students who need extra help.

“Short story long, we have a lot of kids with Fs and a lot of those kids are seniors,” Kovach said, “so our plan right now is we are going to set Wednesday as a special day, bring those kids in and see if we can get them back on track.”

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.

file photo A Central Point Elementary class is set up like NASA mission control. Central Point schools will be open full-time four days a week by April 12.