Board directs Ontario High School staff to come up with alternative plan for re-entry

Ontario High School teachers Jennifer Yano and John Lloyd share a computer to present their portions to the Ontario School Board of Directors during Monday night's special meeting. Here, Yano is highlighting surveys conducted to garner input on returning to school amidst a pandemic.

ONTARIO

It’s back to the drawing board for staff and administrators at Ontario High School as far as coming up with a plan to return as many students to in-person school on or before April 19, the deadline set by Gov. Kate Brown for returning to either a fully on-site or hybrid instructional model for grades 6-12.

The Ontario School Board of Directors decided unanimously on Monday night that staff and administrators should come back in a week with an alternative plan to the hybrid one they had presented that takes into consideration research from other schools and that “gets kids back in to school more substantially.”

While high school officials said they had taken such information into consideration, including that the school has one of have the lowest failing rates in the state, it was decided specifically by the board that officials should look to Baker and Hermiston school districts for the possibility of an alternative plan, then come back to the board. If at that time, it is apparent no other plan would work, the board would fall back on the plan presented Monday, which according to the majority of students and staff surveyed is the most accepted way to get through the end of the school year without a disruption to the learning plan already in place well into the third trimester. By April 19, only five weeks of school will remain and staff say getting students thru the finish line is the main goal at this point in the year.

Additionally, the board urged having high school officials run their plan past the Oregon Department of Education and the governor’s office, both of which have stated the plans should be left up to individual school districts so long as they are either fully on-site or hybrid.

Hybrid instructional model

In a truncated version of what they had presented to the board during a staff meeting on March 18 — which did include an update of the 3-foot spacing rule as it had been updated since they last met — teachers told the board that they proposed a hybrid instructional model as a solution to getting more class time for students through the end of this year. The other option, simultaneous teaching for-credit classes to students online and in-person at the same time was said to be a set-up for failure.

Transportation and 3-foot spacing issues aside, the biggest issue, according to staff was not only that not all students want to come back to class and some parents aren’t ready to let them — but that according to the governor’s mandate as it relates to COVID and schools, they can not require students to come back to class right now.

“What we are required to protect is successful credit accrual toward graduation requirement,” said math teacher Ryan Roulston, who noted that protecting the success of freshman is equally important toward that goal.

Dedicated hybrid instruction, which would include virtual classes for credit between 10:30 a.m. and 2:55 p.m. along with all students having the opportunities for in-person instruction, labs and support in the mornings from Monday to Thursday is the responsible plan, teachers say.

Staff already have made the shift since spring break of going away from a comprehensive distance learning model, in which students had to be invited, to a hybrid model that includes more in-person class time for students.

The kicker is that whatever is delivered to in-person students for credit must still be offered to those online at the same level.

Technological challenges and equity were some of the hurdles cited, with Principal Jodi Elizondo citing the very challenges experienced at the top of the meeting which delayed the start of her presentation by at least 10 minutes.

Language arts teacher John Lloyd said that simultaneous teaching isn’t viable “because others have been attempting to make it work and are failing.”

He said the system isn’t conducive to student wellbeing or learning and is not particularly friendly to anybody involved.

“When a bunch of teachers say, ‘Hey, it’s not working,’ we all sit up and listen,” Lloyd told the board.

Spanish teacher Jennifer Yano highlighted parent and student surveys in which 77% of students said they did not want to come back to campus due to myriad reasons, including wanting to gather in groups as well as the success of the virtual platform as it currently sits.

Science teacher Tracy Watts said the priorities they wanted to keep in mind included giving the best quality of instruction to students while maintaining as much consistency and stability for students and families as possible. In the plan presented, there is reduced support time for online students to allow for more in-person instruction time, she said, adding “but this seemed like the best to be able to meet all of those needs.”

Board questions proposal

Board Chairwoman Renae Corn at least three times during the meeting had to ask board member Derrick Draper to be respectful in the middle of his comments, with lawyer Rebekah Jacobsen at one point urging Corn to pause the meeting and get back the order.

Draper said he did not believe the model proposed offered in-person accredited classes, to which Watts pointed out the list of obstacles regarding getting kids back in class and reminding that they have an obligation to teach online students, too.

Draper and board members Craig Geddes and Eric Evans wanted to know why simultaneous teaching was working for K-8 and other smaller schools, but couldn’t work at the high school.

Watts said it was a good question and that there are time constraints along with the need to earn high school level credits.

“We have each for a very limited amount of time, honestly the amount right now is very small compared to a regular day,” she said. “If something goes astray, if you have to spend more time… in an elementary classroom you can rearrange your day to figure out a way.”

The same was not true at the high school, she said, with multiple teachers teaching multiple students each day.

Evans asked whether ODE or the governor’s office had weighed in on the model that OHS officials were proposing to confirm it meets the requirements of the executive order.

While Elizondo said they hadn’t submitted anything that the order is very broad and meant to be interpreted by individual schools.

“We can assure you that the model here meets the governor’s expectations,” she said, adding that most schools similarly sized were not offering in-person yet, but still complete CDL or CDL and hybrid with limited inperson.

“We don’t want to disrupt the success,” she said, adding that while they wanted all kids back all day long, until the governor says it is required their “hands are tied.”

Watts added that Ontario was also ahed of many other schools, such as Portland which will be doing at the end of this month what Ontario put into place a month ago.

After pressed by Draper about the failure rate, Elizondo said for the first term it was 13% and 15% for the second, with about 30 to 40 seniors in the at-risk category.

Evans said that he has the “utmost respect” for admin and staff and the plan they had worked hard on, however, he also hoped they could “appreciate the amount of pressure I’m getting from community members to get them back in school.”

He said he didn’t think anyone was aware that Hermiston School District had opted to do full-time in-person learning for the entire district.

A representative from Hermiston High School this morning told the newspaper that while the school is going back to full-time in-person learning on April 13, they will still offer a program called “Hermiston Online.”

Draper questioned whether Edgenuity could be used for Ontario’s online students, as it was a more difficult program and may essentially force them to come back to class. However, teachers and staff said that Edgenuity is primarily a tool for credit recovery, and Elizondo reminded Draper that they can not “compel someone to come back to school.”

“Edgenuity is an awful choice for kids, it’s very different and would set them up for failure,” Elizondo said. “We can’t force them all to come at the expense of some who can not, and leave them twisting in the wind on their own.”

To this, Watts said the decision of “come to school or fail,” was not a choice she wanted to make.

Public comment

Draper’s wife, Kate Draper, and his daughter, Ella Draper a senior at the high school, both spoke during public comments stating their messages were their own.

Kate Draper pointed out the majority of elementary students were now back in class and Ella Draper said she has been missing out on live instruction as classes get canceled for meetings, saying her “education is being cut short.”

She also stated that she didn’t believe the survey of teachers who preferred the proposed hybrid model (83%) was accurate, and that the questions in the student survey were “stated in a manner that made coming back sound negative,” as they were asked if they would be comfortable wearing a mask or standing in line.

Ken Hart, of Ontario, also commented saying that no matter what the model would be to finish off the year, to let the public know if they planned to continue the online push in the fall, saying to Elizondo that she and her staff were the experts and he trusted them, but to give them as much time as possible, so he could consider moving his children to another school district that did allow in-person classes.

Elizondo said they weren’t given a choice, and hoped they didn’t misstate what the survey was about, to which Geddes said this was not the time for her to comment, but for the public.

Student Emma Goldthorpe said she agreed with what Ella Draper stated, adding that “I really do think I get a better education while in school,” and that she hoped they would have that opportunity as soon as possible.

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