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Ashland High School, JMOS announce some remote learning

On the same day it was supposed to start new coronavirus mitigation measures to keep extracurricular activities going, the Ashland School District instead announced late Monday that it would scrap those plans and, additionally, revert one school and a classroom at another to distance learning.

One class at the John Muir Outdoor School went virtual on Monday and Ashland High School will go remote Jan. 13. No other schools in the Ashland School District have been impacted by the latest announcement.

“We understand that school closures and suspension of activities impact our families significantly,” Samuel Bogdanove, district superintendent, wrote in a newsletter to Ashland families and community members.

Bogdanove cited “increasing numbers” of people within the district being out due to coronavirus and the “limited pool” of available substitutes in “all areas, from operations and instruction to administration,” as the need to transition Ashland High School to remote learning until at least Jan. 31.

“We are back-filling staff vacancies at every opportunity with staff from all departments, including administrators,” the superintendent wrote. “Due to the increasing numbers of persons continuing to be isolated due to COVID-19, we are in a position at AHS and in a classroom at JMOS where we are unable to have students learn safely at school due to staffing shortages.”

Though the school’s instruction will be remote, the computer labs and library will remain open, buses will continue to operate and meals will be provided. Since distance learning will occur during finals week, “flexible opportunities” will be provided Jan. 24.

“We will ensure 6 foot distances at meal times, and outdoors when possible,” Christine McCollom, the district’s director of programs and instruction, said in an email.

Details on short-term distance learning will vary based on the classroom or school impacted, Bogdanove said. But technology will be made available for students who need devices to use at home.”

The superintendent did not offer more details surrounding the temporary halt on extracurricular activities and sports other than the date he expected them to resume.

He did, however, talk about what is considered to move from in-person to short-term distance learning, saying it involves commuting with state health officials on down to local health providers like Jackson County Health.

“We’ve also been closely tracking data, nearly hourly, to determine COVID’s impact on our ability to continue to keep classrooms open,” Bogdanove wrote. “This includes, but is not limited to, monitoring the number of staff and students isolated with COVID-19, the number of staff and students in quarantine, and the number of staffing vacancies not covered by substitutes.”

The superintendent reiterated his overall philosophy on in-person learning, saying it beats the alternative.

“Our goal is to keep our students learning in-person, every day, as we know that this is the best place for them academically, socially, mentally and emotionally,” Bogdanove wrote. “Additionally, we are committed to do our best to resume extracurricular activities.”

At the beginning of the newsletter, Bogdanove noted families' concerns about the ongoing pandemic as well as the “changing” conditions “daily, even hourly,” ever since the return from winter break at the beginning of January.

That was when the Oregon Department of Education issued its “most critical and urgent” school health advisory. Such advisories are sent out every month to school districts throughout the state to offer guidance on how to function during the pandemic.

The latest advisory had said that any school could proceed with extracurricular activities, but “should expect rapid transmission of COVID-19,” and it could prevent in-person learning if it did so.

That said, the ODE recommended the risk of continuing such activities “should be clearly communicated to families participating.”

That’s what the Ashland School District had posted online on Monday, when it was going to start implementing plans to continue with extracurricular activities.

Those plans included masked athletes, as long as they weren’t involved in play, and spectators who were only families of seniors as long as they agreed to wear a mask for the duration of the event. If not, they would be asked to leave.

The district had also announced a prohibition of overnight travel by athletes, limited locker room use and no concession stands at venues for spectators.

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or kopsahl@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.