Schools figuring things out as COVID keeps things remote

By Kelly Kenoyer
Lebanon Local

Lebanon School District is still struggling with enrollment and participation amid increasing COVID numbers that require the schools to stay remote.
“It’s very frustrating, but we just keep marching along,” Supt. Bo Yates told the board at its Oct. 8 school board meeting.
“We have to have three weeks of COVID with under 30 per 100,000.”
The state did remove the metric requirement related to testing in the month of September because of wildfires, but that didn’t help Linn County because of high COVID numbers, which were at 82.2 per 100,000 the week of Oct. 4-10.
According to the Oregon Health Authority, Lebanon has had 155 cases since the start of the pandemic. The Lowe’s distribution facility has had 12 between Sept. 17 and Oct. 6.
On a brighter note, Yates told the board, “When we do come out of this, we’ll have the option to do some blended learning, moving forward.”
He added, “The governor did say there’s a possibility they would look at the metrics again and re-evaluate, but there’s no guarantee.”
The five school board members, Tom Oliver, Mike Martin, Tammy Schilling, Richard Borden, and Todd Gestrin, all attended the virtual meeting.
The lowered enrollment may cause budget problems for the district, according to Business Director William Lewis.
“We’re 11.8 percent down,” he said. “That’s a $4 million issue. No one wants to have a $4 million issue next year.”
School budgets rely largely on attendance, he said, though a financial downturn could have dele-eterious effects as well. Previous downturns have forced the district to cut staff by 25 to 40 percent over the summer, he said, which was not necessary in this economic downturn – just yet.
Attendance is down by more than 20 percent at Seven Oak Middle School and Lebanon High School, though Yates said the district is working hard to get students engaged.
“Most schools have staff dedicated to making calls trying to get kids engaged,” Yates said, adding that the grade schools are all getting participation rates around 90 percent.
“A lot of those kids, we have not been able to contact them from the get-go. We have teams that are out calling on homes and doing everything we possibly can to figure out what we can do to support them,” he explained. “There’s not one single thing, but there are tons of things people are struggling with.”

Also at the board meeting:
♦ Annie Latimer, the ASB president of LHS offered comments to the board, noting that her mother, a teacher, has struggled with the difficulties of the school year.
“I’m a senior this year, which is supposed to be the most memorable year of High School. This time is a chunk of our lives, and we don’t want to treat it like a pause or holding place until our lives go back to normal,” she wrote to the board.
“We should all be sending the message that this time is important and can actually be awesome if we just change the narrative a little. Maybe we can look back on this year and not just see it as a pause in our lives, but the time in our lives when we grew the most,” Latimer said.
♦ Lebanon has started making use of the small group instruction options allowed by the state. The program is serving 184 students across the district and is focused on students with barriers to accessing education, especially those who can’t access the internet.
School Improvement Administrator Tami Volz said, “They’re identifying students who really do need to come because they haven’t regularly tapped into their instruction.”
The program allows students to come for up to 2 hours a day in groups of 10. It fills in gaps for the district, Yates said.
“We tried to meet kids’ needs, family’s needs with getting internet connectivity out to them with hotspots, but not all families could use that,” he said. “It’s good for us. Good for kids.”
♦ The district has also implemented a program called Seesaw for kindergarten through second grade. To help students and parents will all the technology at all grade levels, Volz said the district has created a help desk.
“It’s essentially a call-in help desk that we’ll offer all day and even some hours at night,” she said. The desk has already received more than 600 calls and emails.
Martin praised her for the effort.
“It’s nice to see the Canvas general template is flexible enough to accept a change like Seesaw for K to 2, as that’s really a critical time to have things in place that are working.”
Seesaw has already received positive feedback from families of young children, as it’s simplified and geared towards early elementary students.
Oliver said he appreciates the district’s flexibility.
“It’s key to recognize when something isn’t going well and to make it right.”
♦ Rachel Cannon, director of alternative education, told the board students in the Ralston Academy program are coming in for support from classified staff. One cohort in particular comes four days a week so they can access the internet, she said.
Younger students in the Social Emotional Learning Program are also doing well, she said.
“I am so proud of the staff and the kids,” Cannon said. “The students wear their masks; they’re so respectful, they are so excited to be there, and they’re doing a really great job following the protocols. ”
♦ Director of Special Education Jan Sansom gave a report about use of physical restraint and seclusion for special education students. The number of restraints is down significantly from 54 restraints in the 2018-19 school year to 19 in the 2019-20 school year, she said
“We are training our staff in how to relate to kids so that we aren’t getting into situations where we are restraining kids or putting them into seclusion,” she said.
The number of students who were restrained at all also went down, from 15 to 12, in addition to fewer restraints over all.
“The trend line is moving in the right direction, very good,” Gestrin said.
Sansom added that special ed staff members want to see their students come back in person, but “we do not have the capacity to do that yet.” She said students are required to wear masks to attend in person, and not all the students are comfortable with that.
♦ The district sent in its Division 22 compliance report for the 2019-20 school year, said Assistant Supt. Jennifer Meckley.  The report outlines the district’s standing with respect to all Standards for Public Elementary and Secondary Schools as set forth in Oregon Administrative Rules.
The reports are typically sent in January, but were sent earlier this year and in a condensed format due to COVID.
The district was out of compliance in the 2018-2019 school year in two areas: prevention education in drugs and alcohol, and human sexuality education. Meckley said the district is addressing both those deficiencies with additions to the program, including a Red Ribbon campaign with leadership students from the high school and SafeSchools annual training for staff. For sex education, the school is adding a new curriculum at the elementary level called “Rights, Respect, and Responsibility,” and will use the Erin’s Law Toolkit to address the requirement of child sexual abuse education.
“We have to give four lessons a year on child abuse prevention, so those will be incorporated into the health curriculum,” Meckley said.
♦ Food services served “over 30,000 meals” in the last month, Yates said. The district is also finishing up a freezer at the district office to assist with food service.