As of the start of the 2020-21 school year on Aug. 31, students in the Ontario School District have been using a distance learning model. The hope was to open in a hybrid format by October, but that didn’t happen as the state continued it’s mandate for distance learning.
On Dec. 23, Gov. Kate Brown ordered state agencies to put more schools on the path to return with social distancing mandates in place, setting a mid-February deadline. However, it could be as early as January for some schools.
Brown’s announcement which came during winter break, spurred Ontario School District officials into action.
“We have been full-speed planning since the announcement just before Christmas,” wrote Taryn Smith, public relations and communications coordinator, in an email on Tuesday evening.
The district sent out a letter through the automated email system on Monday to staff and parents.
This included a link to a survey with a series of questions and space for responses. Topics include classroom space, input and ideas, concerns, instructional model, transportation, meals, safety, absence plan for substitutes and staff and a timeline for elementary schools, the middle school and the high school.
During a phone interview this morning, Smith said the hope is that most of the input will be back as soon as possible, saying “the quicker, the better,” so that the information can be presented to the the Board of Directors at its next meeting on Jan. 25.
These include such things as determining how many students and families want to continue distance learning and how many want to return in person.
“This move to in-person is a critical one, and we want to do it safely and thoughtfully,” Smith wrote.
The biggest challenges faced by the school district at this time involve transportation and space or capacity. She provided examples of these issues. The first was that there are 15 buses and drivers. In order to meet social distancing guidance, buses will only be able to transport an average of 15 students. This equates to 225 students per district route, and there are currently more than 2,400 enrolled.
“While we have many that are walkers, it is still a HUGE challenge,” Smith said.
The logistics of getting back to class will include a multitude of details for Ontario. On Tuesday, the administration team met to start the discussion.
In addition to gathering information from the school and greater community, families are being contacted to see whether they are comfortable sending their children back at this time. If they do plan to send them back, schools are asking if transportation can be provided in order to work around barriers, such as cohorts and other “county sub limitations.”
Administration is meeting with staff at the building level to plan anticipated challenges and gather feedback. Additionally, the district plans to start revising its Operational Blueprints for hybrid instruction. It is anticipated that all in-person students will wear masks, and that local health metrics will be considered, which could change, Smith said, as the district receives stakeholder feedback.
Once responses are in from parents and staff, the next steps are as follows.
• Once we know a rough number of students planning to return in-person we can establish classroom sizes, what daily schedules will look like, and other daily logistics;
• Plan and coordinate nutrition services; breakfast, lunch, meals to students learning from home, and maintaining the grab-and-go sites;
• Bring our plan to the school board for their feedback; and
• Submit blueprints to our local health authority.