Clatskanie and Rainier School District officials are preparing to welcome students to the new school year ahead with hopes of returning to a more normal education environment following the COVID-19 pandemic disruptions and challenges.

New School Year

As children return to the new school year, Clatskanie and Rainier School Districts are planning for more back to normal learning in September, while still following state and federal health and safety guidelines.

“The path is clear for students to return to full time, in-person instruction next year," Oregon Department of Education Director (ODE) Colt Gill said.

The ODE has announced the Ready Schools, Safe Learners Resiliency Framework for the 2021-22 School Year June 25. The Resiliency Framework helps school districts prepare their staff and campuses for the next academic year.

"Working together, we can harness this opportunity to rekindle joy and learning in the classrooms, auditoriums, and playgrounds across Oregon," Gill said. "Oregon schools are ready to once again be vibrant places for learners, staff, and their families.”

As Oregon enters the next chapter of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Resiliency Framework shifts public school districts to a more traditional, local decision-making model, so that communities can make the health and safety decisions that serve students best, according to the ODE.

Clatskanie School District Superintendent Cathy Hurowitz said the school board discussed school safety at its July 12 regular public meeting.

“The new guidance from the ODE and the OHA is recommendation only,” she said. “It was decided that Clatskanie School District will not require masks for fully vaccinated. We strongly recommend that unvaccinated individuals continue to wear a mask for their own safety but it is not a mandate. It will be up to the student's family to decide the mask issue.”

Hurowitz said school districts across the state were notified on July 9 that school busses fall under public transportation laws.

“Students who ride the bus as well as bus drivers are required to wear a mask on the bus,” she said. “This is a federal law that supersedes state guidance.”

Hurowitz said the district plans to offer in person instruction to the majority of students.

“We are also continuing with our academy/alternative program and we will offer an online option for those families who want to continue to home school,” Hurowitz said.

The Clatskanie district also saw a loss of students due to the pandemic.

“We are down about 80 students due to COVD-19,” Hurowitz said. “Some families moved away and some could not do online instruction and learning. We are expecting most of those students to return this year and are prepared to support them.”

Hurowitz said the district will be following the health and safety recommendations provided by the Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Department of Education.

“We will continue to sanitize our buildings, require hand washing or hand sanitizer and maintaining a distance of three feet between desks/chairs.” she said.

Rainier School District

In Rainier, Superintendent Joseph Hattrick said Rainier School District is still in the initial planning phase for the next school year this fall.

“Parents should know that as we begin our planning, we are planning a return to normal,” Hattrick said. “Students will be at school five-days per week with a 1 p.m. dismissal on Wednesdays. We are still exploring the requirements around distance learning as an option and I will be seeking input from parents to determine if virtual learning options are preferred for their families.”

Hattrick did not provide specific numbers of students that had left the district for one reason or the other during the pandemic.

“As I understand it, districts across the country lost students and I expect as we return to in-person learning, those students will return,” he said.

Hattrick said the Rainier schools would also continue to follow health and safety practices.

“I think it will continue to be a best-practice to do contact tracing,” he said “In the same way we have always had visitor logs and attendance, we need to know who is on our campus. Additionally, it is our plan to the extent possible that masks be optional for staff and students. I expect some students will return wearing masks and that is completely acceptable and we are happy if any student chooses to use that safety measure.”

The ODE Ready Schools, Safe Learners Resiliency Framework reflects Governor Kate Brown’s announcement June 25 of her order lifting all remaining COVID-19 health and safety restrictions issued under Oregon emergency statutes, including the executive order for K-12 schools.

The key Resiliency Framework pillars are:

  • Oregon public schools will be returning to full-time, in-person instruction next school year.
  • A focus on connecting and relationship building as staff and students move back into full-time, in-person instruction.
  • Pre-pandemic instructional time requirements will be reinstituted.
  • School districts and charter schools may continue to offer online programs for students at their discretion. The Department will engage in an inclusive process to update Oregon’s remote learning quality standards over the next school year.
  • The vast majority of health and safety protocols, including face coverings and physical distancing in Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance, which are currently mandatory, will move to advisory next academic year. The switch to advisory means school districts, public charter schools and private schools will have the option to implement, as appropriate, relevant advisory guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and the Oregon Health Authority, and may require face coverings, physical distancing and other measures.
  • Key measures that remain required include: Maintaining a communicable disease plan, maintaining an isolation space in schools and submitting a plan for operation.

“Schools have more than a year of practice on how to mitigate COVID-19 and create a welcoming and inclusive learning environment for students and staff,” Gill said. “Moving to an advisory framework is a logical progression from emergency state direction to local decision-making for keeping students and staff healthy within each school’s unique context.”

On July 22, the ODE released updates to its Back to School guidelines.

Follow Back to School stories here online and in the Friday print editions of The Chief.

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