K-3 students to start fall in classroom

By Kelly Kenoyer
Lebanon Local

Lebanon Community Schools intends to bring students in kindergarten through third grade back to school in person on half-day schedules four days a week, according to a report presented at the School Board’s monthly meeting on Aug. 13.
Students in grades 4-12 may eventually be able to attend in person, according to the plan, but only if the county and the state meet stringent metrics for COVID-19 cases. All metrics need to be met for three weeks in a row for students to attend in person: statewide metrics being a 5 percent or lower test positivity rate, with county test rates at the same level, and fewer than 10 cases per 100,000 people in a seven day period.
Linn County currently only meets the metrics for students in grades K-3, as case rates in the county are too high, and statewide test positivity rates are above 5 percent.
The school board spent over an hour discussing the operational plans and asking questions. Members Tammy Schilling, Tom Oliver, Mike Martin, Richard Borden, and Todd Gestrin were all in attendance.
Supt. Bo Yates briefed the board on the basic operation within the school buildings, including protocols for temperature checks, disinfecting, handwashing, social distancing, quarantine rooms, and a lot more.
“It’s like bungee jumping; the height of anxiety is right before you jump,” he said. “We’re going to stand on metrics based on science and support our staff as best as we can.”
He noted that the exception for the youngest kids is because they are less likely to get the virus, get very sick from it, or pass it on to others, according to the Oregon Department of Education. Those students also “need more hands-on instruction and they need more time with the teacher,” he added.
Yates pointed out the county’s apparent upward trajectory for COVID-19 cases, and said it was likely that in-person schooling will “start and stop,” but added “we’re going to get good at this.”
Students in third grade and younger will go to school in two separate groups, during an 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. timeframe and a noon to 3 p.m. timeframe, while older students will be distance learning. The younger students will also only attend on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
Yates added that athletic activities have been shuffled around as well, with four seasons each lasting two months (see page 14). Fall sports have been delayed till March and April.
“You only have two weeks of practice before your first contest,” he said. “I think it’s a great idea.
School Improvement and Federal Programs Director Tami Volz then spent some time explaining the new online Canvas learning platform to the board, and how it’s being integrated into the school system. Volz said a number of staff members “have been frantically trying to learn Canvas for themselves and to guide their peers when they need to launch it with the whole staff on Aug. 24.”
Thirteen staff members have become “Canvas experts” with additional training, she said. “There’s a lot of moving parts but the teachers are hanging in there.”
Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Meckley said the district is working on modules that will help staff and parents learn how to use the learning assistance platform during the soft start week. “Parents can come in and learn one-on-one how to work on Canvas or use the Chromebook,” she said. “We’re building that airplane as we fly it.”
Board members then began asking a lot of questions about Canvas, especially about how it will work for parents, young kids, and access to personal contact with teachers.
“There’s a lot of angst in the community about not having answers and not knowing what’s going on,” Martin said, asking the administration to send out information sooner rather than later to assuage some of those fears.
Oliver agreed: “It would be helpful to see some examples of content as well,” he said.
He added that being able to actually see what his kids are learning in real time is “kind of exciting.”
Gestrin asked whether seniors are going to be able to graduate on time if their parents aren’t able or willing to help them with the online learning process.
Yates responded that the students who are behind in credits will get extra classes, and that the district is going to try to provide some Wednesday support time when they can come in and get extra attention.
Schilling asked whether students will get contact with teachers, and Meckley assured her that they would be able to speak with them live on Zoom as a class.
“In the high school, teachers will have a six-period day, so kids will be able to log into those classes and have live interaction,” she said.
Students can turn in homework on Canvas in various different ways, depending on what the teacher asks for: it could be a text document, an online discussion board, a short video, or even a drawing, Volz said.
“Maybe you need to post something or type something or draw something; it’s in the right spot and you can interact with it.”
Martin expressed concern for young students in fourth or fifth grades, who try to use a platform that may be complicated, but Mechley said Canvas is designed to work for everyone from kindergarteners through adults.
“It depends on how you set it up,” she said. “Kids are savvy, they figure things out pretty easily, actually.”
Additionally, Canvas will be the only app students and parents need to deal with, so it won’t require a lot of different log-ins, Volz said.
“It is designed to be that one-stop shop,” she said. It’s also integrated across platforms, so it should work on all kinds of smart phones and other devices.
Yates added that Canvas has a lot of functionality for teachers.
“There’s analytics so you can see how much time every student has spent online doing work,” he said. “This is something we need to invest in and will be with us as a foundational piece of what we’re doing.”
At that point in the meeting, Schilling suggested the district implement a Frequently Asked Questions page on the website to address common concerns.
“Even if you don’t have an answer, write TBA,” she suggested. “The information just being out there might allay a lot of anxiety for parents and teachers and kids, frankly.”
Yates responded, “We can only provide information as we get it.”
Many parents have expressed concerns about what times their students will attend classes, and whether siblings will be paired together, he said.
Yates said the times will be divided up alphabetically by last name, and parents can contact the district if their kids have different last names. But registration has to come first, he said.
Martin then asked whether teachers will need to “handle brick and mortar and online simultaneously.”
Yates said that is an unlikely situation.
“You might just have class in the morning and in the afternoon you’re online, or you’ll have teachers who can’t be in the classroom and they’ll be online,” he said.
Gestrin also asked about the increased risk being placed on K-3 teachers, who will have to be on the front lines of the pandemic inside the classroom.
Yates responded, “If it becomes too dangerous and we get to a point where we hit that metric, we’ll stop classes.” The metric in question is 30 cases a week per 100,000 people in Linn County, or a test positivity rate of 7.5 percent or higher.
“We’ve got to follow what the experts tell us we should be doing,” he said. “Obviously, there’s a little more risk because those teachers are with kids and the others are not, but it’s a managed risk, and we’ll do everything we can to support them.”

In other action, the board:
♦ Approved a slight adjustment to the district’s the school calendar to make move a non-contract day scheduled for Sept. 4 to Strawberry Day instead. The board agreed to the change unanimously.
♦ Unanimously approved the organizational chart of Lebanon Community Schools.
♦ Unanimously approved some amendments to a local service plan.
♦ Unanimously agreed to hire two new staff positions: Ryan Renner as a K-8 P.E. teacher, and Eric Bickenstaff as a mental and behavior health specialist.
♦ Heard a brief report about the 2019-20 budget, with the district sitting at $45.9 million in revenues as of June with $41.8 million in expenditures in the same time frame. The district budgeted for $46.7 million total for the financial year.