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From a distance

Students in the Ashland School District will be distance learning until at least Nov. 9, and the district has added five “Schooling Through COVID” training days starting Monday to help staff prepare, according to the district’s 24-page Operational Blueprint for School Reentry, a document required by the Oregon Department of Education.

According to the blueprint, released Aug. 11 and updated Monday, ASD will decide whether to switch to “on-site hybrid” learning based on the state and county case rates per 100,000 and the test positivity percentage throughout October.

The district, according to the blueprint, “will also consider the option for limited in-person instruction for specific groups of students and particular situations as we move forward,” and may update the blueprint for such exceptions. Sept. 8 is the first day of school.

The district’s plan conforms to guidance from the Oregon Department of Education and the Oregon Health Authority released three weeks ago which ties the possibility of in-person learning in public schools to key state and county metrics. According to those metrics, Ashland students in fourth grade and above may attend school in person only if Jackson County has 22 or fewer new COVID-19 cases per week and maintains a weekly test positivity rate of 5% or less for three weeks in a row. The bar is lower for younger children, as kids in kindergarten through third grade can return to school if the county has 66 or fewer cases per week for three weeks in a row.

In addition, state positivity rates — that is, the rate of COVID-19 tests which come back positive — must remain at or below 5% for three consecutive weeks for in-person learning to resume.

Jackson County is a long way from meeting those standards and is trending in the wrong direction. On Wednesday, Jackson County reported a single-day record 24 new cases of COVID-19.

Ashland teachers will have 10 “COVID training days” over the next two weeks, cramming from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day in subjects ranging from “how to organize for success with Canvas” (a learning management platform), “attendance in distance learning,” and “how to Zoom like a pro.”

Where teachers go about their remote teaching was also addressed: “While the Ashland School District expects staff members to work on-site during distance learning, it recognizes there may be necessary accommodations for specific staff members who have a health condition, who live with someone with a health condition, or who have a child care situation,” directs the “staff on campus” section. “Staff members who work on-site are required to follow the Staff On-campus Safety Protocols.”

According to the ASD blueprint overview, the ASD Schooling Through COVID Committee and Administrators used input from staff, parents and students and guidance from ODE to identify four main areas of focus with regard to distance learning: Engagement, participation and accountability; support for families; workload balance; and structure and organization.

The blueprint then breaks down, using itemized bullet points, how the district plans to approach each of those points of emphasis. To support families, for instance, the district outlines how it will “close gaps in student learning by having a streamlined way of communicating and providing support with technology, education materials and social connections,” with no fewer than 19 bullet points. The long list includes plans to provide “technology devices” to any kindergartner through 12th-grade student who needs one, provide internet hotspots to families who don’t have internet access, and to “design lessons that foster independent learning and require less parent/adult support.”

According to the second item on the “structure and organization” emphasis, teachers will “provide a clear daily schedule with a checklist estimating the time that should be spent completing each assignment.” Item 12 under the same header touches on parents’ responsibilities: “Parents of elementary students will be provided clear expectations on their role during online synchronous instruction (kids should be dressed, sitting up, don’t whisper answers to child, do check-in periodically, make sure materials are handy for the student).”

A link to ASD’s operational blueprint is available at the ODE 2020-21 school year blueprint links webpage via oregon.gov/ode.

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

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