Ontario High School students who will be able to get to campus for in-person classes during the mornings of four school days for the final five weeks of the year will be able to do so starting on April 19. After listening to a presentation by OHS staff, hearing public comment which included student feedback, and discussing it amongst themselves, the Ontario School Board of Directors unanimously decided to go with a revised hybrid learning model, which will still offer comprehensive distance learning for those not ready or unable to get back to class.
At the top of the presentation, Melissa Williams, director of student services provided an overview of the new guidance from Oregon Department of Education, which is an 88-page document “most of us have read many, many times.” She pointed out critical changes that were impacting them, including physical distancing requirements between cohorts and staff and students, transportation and meal services.
Williams said she and Superintendent Nicole Albisu, per the board’s request for input, had checked in with an ODE official to see if the hybrid model proposed and which is currently underway passes requirements.
“The design proposed does meet the criteria of hybrid model in terms of ODE guidance,” she said.
The presentation included three options, the first which is the current hybrid model happening now, simultaneous instruction which had previously also been proposed before but not well-favored, and an alternating schedule that has in-person students rotating between periods 1, 2 and 3 two mornings per week and 4, 5 and 6 the other two mornings per week, with one day still set aside for asynchronous learning. Since students have been back and in the current model, school officials are considering switching the asynchronous day from Friday to Tuesday or Wednesday.
“We have heard loud and clear that Friday became kind of a three-day weekend with the kids,” said OHS Principal Jodi Elizondo, emphasizing that the amount of negative impact of having the asynchronous day on Friday outweighed how moving it back to Wednesday may impact some families.
Elizondo noted that if the third model was selected, staff would need to take a few mornings off of the current in-person classes, offered from 8:30 to 9:45 a.m. on campus Monday thru Friday, in order to prepare for live instruction ahead of April 19.
Prior to making the vote, board member Craig Geddes took the time to talk about his experience as a public health professional.
“I want it to be very clearly understood: I want kids back in school and I really like this model. It’s a a great model. But I want to be clear to kids and parents that going back to school only works with precautions,” he said. “This is not permission to take off your masks. This is not to have parties after school. This is to go back in a somewhat normal manner.”
He noted that across the border in Idaho where counties were opening they were seeing rapidly rising COVID case numbers again.
Evans suggests $400 a week for staff for least-favored modelOver the course of discussions with the board the past few weeks about getting back to school, simultaneous learning while presented as an option has been said time and again to be the least favored model as it is less effective and could cause a larger failure rate.
Despite this, board member Eric Evans during the meeting asked whether finding money to pay each teacher $400 extra per week for the final five weeks of school would be enough to get them to agree to that learning model.
“We’ve heard, and I totally agree that simultaneous teaching is out. That it’s going to be a burden, and I will absolutely concur,” he said. However, he went on to ask whether money would be incentive enough.
“What if we offer a stipend to all classroom teachers of, let’s say … $2,000 each?”
The presenting teachers all echoed each other in saying what Tracy Watts, who first responded said.
“It’s not the money or the work, because honestly teachers don’t do this for money or for lack of work,” Watts said.
She said they were willing to teach 12 classes a day to make that happen with no extra compensation, however, due to the projected outcomes of the model, “we don’t think it’s good for in-person or online learning” and would be “watering down both.”
Getting students in the same room is not what makes in-person instruction the best choice, she said. Rather, it’s the delivery and interaction with them.
“So for me, getting an extra $400 would be awesome, but wouldn’t be worth what I think it would cost the kids,” Watts said.
Feedback from students mixed
Feedback from students during public comment was mixed, with Albisu reading a petition that was led by 9 students and had 80 signatures about the desire to return to class.
“We feel it is our right to speak up … please remember this decision effects us students the most,” the petition read.
Some students, however, painted pictures of how it could harm them having to go through such a change in the final few weeks of the year, even worrying about how online learners might not get the same opportunities.
Destiny Ward, a junior, was among those who explained how her life had been turned upside down by the pandemic, and how she proposed things remain the same for the rest of the year.
“There is no doubt it’s been a tough year for everyone, but how many would actually benefit,” she asked.
Ward said that they have been learning online for the past eight months, which took months to adapt to in the first place.
And Ward said she has not attended school in more than a year, due to circumstances from being part of a single-parent home.
“I am her babysitter,” she explained, explaining that when COVID hit, her mom had to take a part-time job on top of her full-time job just to get by.
“I believe it would cause an unnecessary amount of stress, not just for parents, but students and teachers,” she said. “I understand, everyone wants normal. Trust me. I do, too.”
Other students suggested that even with the current learning model life was “starting to improve.”
Joe Place, a senior, pointed out that clubs and activities were still going.
“I have a feeling, option 1 is directed to individuals who can take themselves to school,” he said.
It is noteworthy that it has been stated busses will not likely be able to be used to get high school students to class.
Failure rate vs. F rate
When staff were making their presentation to the board, staff pointed out that in reaching out to other schools they had learned not only about their different models, but about a higher failure rate.
At Ontario High School, it was 13% for the first trimester and 15% for the second trimester. Other schools who are doing in-person classes with partial amounts of students attending an academy type of setup for distant learning are also not doing simultaneous teaching, but their failure rates are higher. According to data presented by staff, about 40% of students at Baker are not expected to meet their graduation goals, and Hermiston told staff they “would rather not share.” Across the state in similarly sized schools, the rate is also high, with Mollala at 40% and Cottage Grove at 30%.
Teacher Ryan Roulston pointed out that Ontario’s lower rates were “a primary measure of success.”
During discussion following public comment, Draper passed out documents to board members that he had “secured” from a county office that helps at-risk students, and suggested that staff had misrepresented the failure rate data. He then went on to produce F rate data, which is notably not the same, stating that it was higher and then called out points from public comment submitted by Susan Gregory, director of the Malheur County Juvenile Probation Department.
In that letter, he stated that Gregory said of the youth who were supervised there who are enrolled at OHS, 72% earned an F in the second trimester.
Nathan Sandberg, assistant principal at the high school came on to say that there were issues with that data Draper was referring to, and that the failure rate and F rate were not the same.
Elizondo also pointed out that the data produced comparing Ontario to Nyssa and Vale wasn’t equitable in that the schools are not like sized and students also take a different number of courses.
“The chances to fail are higher when you are taking more classes,” she said, noting that Ontario students were taking all six.
Superintendent Nicole Albisu also pointed out that the caseload handled by the juvenile department only factored in a small percentage of the total 732 students at OHS.
Roulston took the time to point out that he had personally gathered the requested failure rate data and presented it to the board at the end of the first trimester.
“With the validity being questioned publicly, I want to say publicly that data I presented was accurate,” he said.
Albisu at this told the board that “It’s tough to be told that the data may not be presented in a truthful way,” and said she, too, stood behind the data.
Corn finally urged moving on.
Returning ‘as much normalcy as is allowable in the fall’
During the meeting, Williams addressed a concern brought up by parent Ken Hart from the March 29 meeting regarding whether they planned to return students to full-time in-person classes in the fall.
“It is our intention to open our schools to as much normalcy as is allowable in the fall,” she said. “We have every intention of following guidance to the greatest extent possible.”
This may include still requiring masks and offering comprehensive distant learning. It was also mentioned that they were going to explore a separate standalone CDL program that will be very different than what is offered now.
Additionally, she encouraged those who could safely do so with advice from medical professionals to get vaccinated.
“This afternoon, Sarah Poe [director of Malheur County Health Department] let us know that Walgreens has a vaccine for students age 16 to 18. The efficacy is looking good at this point. That will help us stay open.”