SOUTH COAST — School districts along the South Coast are making plans to reopen in the fall under the state’s new guidelines.
And under these new plans, the average classroom on the South Coast may be too small for students to go back to the “old normal,” according to Tenneal Wetherell, superintendent at South Coast Education Service District. This means local schools will likely adopt an alternative or new way to do classes for the next academic year.
Last week, the Oregon Department of Education released guidance to schools on how to safely plan for class in the fall in the face of the new coronavirus pandemic.
“…(I)t’s a lengthy document that essentially outlines what needs to happen for every district in Oregon to open their schools in the fall,” Wetherell said. “…Each district will produce what is called a ‘blueprint’ to ODE by Aug. 15 after the local health authority reviews and agree to the implementation of the plan. Every district has to determine what type of reopening they will select.”
The models available include an all in-person, all online, or hybrid model between the first two.
“…The district has to review the health and safety guidance in the documentation and local context to determine which way they can open,” she said. “Smaller districts could potentially open for the all in-person model, but larger districts might not be able to open in that methodology.”
Wetherell explained that districts need to analyze classroom space to ensure “every person in a room (of) 35 square feet (has) six feet to social distance between themselves and another person, minus items in the room.”
“If you analyze the classroom size in any one of our schools and did the math, the average classroom on the South Coast would not allow for a full classroom to be present,” Wetherell said. “Under those guidelines, (schools) would have to open in a hybrid methodology or in an alternative structure and use gyms or cafeterias to also provide extra work spaces to separate students. Everyone will look at what they can develop in their own district and region and analyze health protocols to determine what method works best for them.”
Right now, she said the state has asked schools to plan for the entire school year.
“I think the difficulty is balancing risk of exposure with the health mitigation procedures and health practices … we want to employ,” she said.
Back when the pandemic first began almost four months ago, South Coast ESD led regional superintendent meetings on how to navigate as schools shut down and then had to implement distance learning curriculums. Now, Wetherell said districts are keeping in touch but are also focusing on the needs of their communities.
“… All superintendents and principals we’ve spoken to are in the process of reviewing guidance and impact,” she said. “Everyone says there is a ‘new normal.’ Whether we like or not, the changes from COVID-19 are impacting pretty much every aspect of our daily life.”
Wetherell expects that, over time, districts will draft plans and work with communities to decide what the best plan is moving forward.
“We’re in the beginning stages,” she said. “It’s a tough process, tough to hear, tough to do, but at the end of the day as a region of educators our job is to tackle this and help students learn and give them access to the most amount of support and resources that we can.”