Nyssa aims to reopen schools

Following a technical difficulty on his computer, Nyssa School District Superintendent Darren Johnson finished Monday’s Zoom meeting at Director of District Operations Ryan Hawkins’ desk. As the two were in the same room, they wore face coverings, something that will be mandatory for Nyssa staff in the 2020-21 school year. 

NYSSA – With time ticking down before the start of the 2020-21 school year, school districts nationwide are hard at work figuring out how to can return students to the classroom (if at all).

During Monday night’s Nyssa School District Board of Directors meeting, Superintendent Darren Johnson walked members of the community through the district’s initial plans for how to return to school. Schools nationwide have been closed since mid-March due to the pandemic caused by the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19. Schools in Oregon rolled out distance learning for the spring term in the weeks following spring break. 

“We can meet all the criteria outlined by the Department of Education,” Johnson said. 

There was no voting on the plan by the Board of Directors, as the plan is still in its initial phases. 

Johnson said he expects multiple changes to the plan, as the Oregon Department of Education will continue to roll out guidance on how to return to school in the fall. The deadline for schools to submit their plan to ODE is Aug. 15. 

Parents will be able to select which form of education their student receives, as Johnson said the district is working with Canvas to create a more comprehensive online learning model. This will also be the platform that the schools will work on if the schools are required to close again due to local outbreaks of the virus. 

The guidance states that all teachers will be creating an online learning plan. 

The schools will have specialists on hand to help students who need more help with online learning. The schools are also planning to offer lessons for students who are not in the school via livestream.  

However, Johnson said it might be difficult for student who opts for distance learning to reenter the school for in-class instruction during a semester. He said students might need to wait for the current term to end before returning to classes. 

Johnson confirmed that the school districts enough square footage to hold all of its students in classrooms while following ODE’s guidance. The initial guidance by the state says that all schools have to recalculate class sizes based on having 35 square feet of open space per person (including a teacher).

For Nyssa, Johnson said, this number comes to roughly 22 students per classroom.

The high school’s plan does not directly address how the school will create cohorts. In ODE’s initial guidance for opening the schools, one item that the state believed would help is creating cohorts of students. This would both lower the number of interactions that students have every day, and would make it easier for schools to perform contact tracing when someone tests positive for the virus. 

One way that the middle school and high school will be helping with keeping students from overlapping multiple times every day is to cut the number of classes per day. Instead of having eight classes (meaning seven trips through crowded hallways and new classrooms with new students) the schedule will be in an A-B block format, with four classes (three trips in the hallways) that are longer every day. 

While he was initially against the idea of moving away from the eight classes per day format, Nyssa High School Principal Brett Jackman said this was ultimately their best method for the schedule.  

”This was the best option for balancing the needs of our students,” Jackman said. Nyssa Middle School and High School had to work together on the schedule since the two schools share a hand full of teachers. 

There will not be lockers for student use in the middle or high schools. 

Another worry for school districts is how to plan out meals for the students. In Nyssa’s initial guidance, the plan is for students to be served their lunch during a class. This is to make sure that students are not gathering in the cafeteria during lunch.

The school district will be requiring all employees to wear some sort of facial covering (a mask or a face shield). Johnson said the district wants students to wear masks at all times, but ODE has announced that schools can’t require students to wear a mask and can’t reprimand students for not wearing them. 

Students will also be required to have their own classroom items, like tape and scissors (which would normally be communal items). 

Looking for more input

After posting surveys about reopening on its website and social media platforms, Nyssa School District had responses showing that 62.1% of the respondents wanted to return to on-site classes. This was the majority, followed by 25.6% wanting a hybrid model and 12.3% wanting a return to online learning. The survey had 227 responses. 

At the same time, the school district issued a Spanish survey with the same question and had only five respondents. Of those, 60% were looking for a hybrid model of learning, 20% wanted on-site and 20% wanted online learning.

Johnson said the school district is currently working to get more of its Spanish-speaking families involved with the reopening plans.

“The plan is to have equity,” Johnson said.

According to the ODE Report Cards from the 2018-19 school year, Nyssa School District’s student population was 66% Hispanic/Latino students, with 46% classified as English Language Learners. 

Nik Streng is a sports and news reporter at The Argus Observer. He can be reached at (541) 823-4806 or by emailing niklass@argusobserver.com

To comment on this story, go to www.argusobserver.com.

Nik Streng is the sports reporter for the Argus Observer. He graduated from the University of Oregon in 2015 with a master's degree in journalism, after graduating from Pacific University in 2013 with a degree in creative writing.

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