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SOUTH COAST — While some national leaders have said they want all students to be back in school buildings this fall, Oregon is giving its schools a choice of three options.

And not all of the options involve being fulltime in a traditional classroom.

“Districts are still in the process of investigating parents, students and teacher needs,” said Tenneal Wetherell, superintendent for South Coast Education Service District.

Wetherell said blueprints, or plans on how schools plan to conduct education in the fall, are due to the state by Aug. 15. The plans that schools can adopt include reopening schools and bringing students and teachers all on-site, or having comprehensive online education, or adopting a hybrid model of both.

“Each district is looking toward what best fits their needs within the context of the health and safety required at the state level,” Wetherell said, adding that many districts are looking toward the hybrid models but that “each district is making their own independent decision.”

When asked if the spike in COVID-19 cases on the South Coast were a concern, Wetherell said “anytime we see cases, we should be concerned and evaluate practices as community members and how we can support maintaining our numbers as low as possible.”

For schools to operate during the worsening pandemic, Wetherell pointed to the Ready Schools Safe Learners Guidance document that outlines three major sections of health and safety practices that have to be implemented into schools.

“As each district designs their implementation plan for the instructional side, they are balancing it with the health and safety side,” Wetherell said. “For example, there are rules around the number of children in a specific room. It’s called ‘cohorting.’”

In addition, schools are working to have students physical distance with the goal being six feet apart.

“(Also the) communicable disease management plan and a ton of health and safety protocols at every level of the school process will be put in place to ensure students are as safe as possible when they return,” she said.

As for meeting the state requirement to wear masks, Wetherell said the current guidance for schools is to have students ages 12 and up to wear masks. Students under 12 years don’t have to wear them.

Wetherell sits on the governor’s Ready Schools council, comprised of about 50 people, and is working with the governor’s office to provide guidance and support to form statewide perspective on reopening schools.

In response to President Donald Trump's comments about requiring every school to reopen, Wetherell said, “Oregon is a state that will make decisions about what schools implement….”

“Oregon does a great job allowing communities to make the best decisions possible under a nice set of guidelines,” she continued. “…Everyone is working incredibly hard to develop the best possible plans to reopen while maintaining safety.”

Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 236, or by email at worldnews1@countrymedia.net. Follow her on Twitter: @je_wardwriter.

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