Aug. 12, 2020 — The Mapleton School District has announced it will be beginning the 2020-21 school year online, with the possibility of moving to a hybrid schedule later in the year. The decision comes after Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced new metrics for districts to allow onsite learning.
“I know it’s hard for a lot of our families, especially working families that will now have kids at home with online learning. But we’re going to do our best to support them,” said District Superintendent Jodi O’Mara.
When O’Mara discussed reopening at the beginning of summer, she stated that they hoped they could open up fully on-site, no hybrid models.
“But as summer went along and custodians were setting classrooms up, we realized that while, yes, 25 students could fit in a classroom with six feet of physical distancing between them, the logistics of that was not necessarily possible,” O’Mara said.
At that point, the district began transitioning toward a hybrid model. But staff did not solidify their plans, knowing that additional announcements from the state would be made. Then in late July, Brown instituted new restrictions on opening, based on state and county COVID-19 case rates, as well as local conditions.
“So with the governor's announcement, that solidified our plans,” O’Mara said. “Now, we’re in comprehensive distance learning, based on the metrics.”
State guidelines do allow for districts to open onsite instruction for K-3 students, if certain transmission metrics are met. However, Mapleton has opted not to pursue the option.
“Part of that is that there are so many unknowns about the virus,” O’Mara said. “I know currently what the data says regarding younger children spreading the disease, and how severely they get sick. But it’s hard to understand how a third grader can come to school, but a fourth grader can’t. And so we just decided to make it district wide. We’re going to have several K-3 students that have siblings at home, and so we just decided to wait until metrics are met for all students to come back on campus.”
To help accommodate and train for distance learning, the district has moved its starting date to Sept. 14.
To provide help for parents and students working at home, the district will be holding small, in person one-on-one sessions before school begins to teach new protocols.
“We’ll do a little bit of an assessment for our smaller kids, just to know where they’re at with reading and math,” O’Mara said. “But mainly, it’s to just let kids and families know how to log in, the technology and what the expectations are for attendance. ‘And here’s a schedule for your online learning. Here’s your schedule.’ It’s really well laid out, along with office hours for teachers.”
During orientation, each student will also be getting a Chromebook to use at home.
“K-2 are getting touch-screen Chromebooks. We thought that was developmentally more appropriate, rather than trying to manipulate a mouse. And then grades 3-8 will be getting regular Chromebooks, while our high schoolers already have them.”
The district will also be assessing internet connectivity within households.
“We’re going to be able to get down to the nitty gritty to find out what connectivity issues are in their household,” O’Mara said. “Is it a problem when all kids are on the internet at the same time? We can then adjust our schedules to meet that. If all three shouldn’t be on at the same time, then we’ll adjust our schedule to make sure they’re not.”
As far as online learning itself, the district has worked to develop comprehensive programs.
“There is a lot that goes into online learning, especially to keep students safe when they are online,” O’Mara said. “We’re really focused on making it developmentally appropriate. That’s really important, especially for our littles. We have to make sure they don’t have more screen time than what they should have. And that’s challenging.”
Once distance learning begins, the district has worked to make communication between teachers, parents and students easier by having teachers on school grounds throughout the week.
“We need to have easy communication for our families,” O’Mara said. “They need to be able to call the elementary office and say, ‘Hi I need to talk to Mrs. Tempe.’ So we can transfer them to Mrs. Tempe. It’s simple, easy, one phone number to call instead of multiple phone numbers for different teachers.”
As for class schedules, middle and high school students will have a seven-period day schedule with shortened periods, four days a week. Elementary students will have a slightly different schedule.
“What we’ve scheduled for the rest of the grades is odd-numbered grade levels will have online instruction with their teachers on Monday and Wednesday,” O’Mara said. “Tuesday and Thursday will be a short, 30-minute check-in for reading and math with educational assistance, as well as a hands-on art activity and a PE activity that they can do offline.”
Even-numbered grades will have the same schedule, just opposite days.
O’Mara also pointed out that nutritional services will be provided to students daily through bus routes.
As to when the schools will determine whether or not they will transition to a hybrid model with some days onsite, it will not be until at least October.
“Every four to five weeks, I have it scheduled to look at metrics,” O’Mara said. “I will be monitoring them every week to see if it’s close to having three weeks of meeting the metrics. If the metrics are met, we’ll determine when we’re transitioning to hybrid. We’ll then make natural transition times. There’s a good time in October. It will take a few days, but we’re hoping it will be a quick transition.”
O’Mara pointed out that if Mapleton does transition to a hybrid model, students will have the ability to remain in comprehensive distance learning if they feel uncomfortable transitioning.
To help with determining whether or not the school can go to a hybrid model, O’Mara is asking families to communicate any confirmed COVID-19 cases with the district.
“Right now, Lane County Public Health won’t release the numbers to anyone for any of the zip codes within our school district, because they all have less than 1,000 in the population,” O’Mara said. “I know just from hearing from people that have told me, there were five new cases in Western Lane County, ‘outside of the Florence area.’ It’s either Dunes City or up in the Mableton area. We’re supposed to keep track of cases, but that relies heavily on families letting the school know, ‘Hey, someone in my family has it so we’re in isolation for two weeks.’ There will be a lot of relying on our families to communicate that with us, knowing that it will be kept confidential. We need to know so we can keep the rest of the community safe as well.”