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Factoring in flexibility

Klamath Falls City Schools classrooms will be empty for at least September as students will start the fall term online.

Klamath Falls City schools are preparing for on-site learning this fall, but it will look vastly different from what students are used to. Klamath Union High School will attend full in-person classes and middle and elementary schools will have split morning and afternoon groups according to the district’s plan presented at Monday night’s board meeting.

The effort to get students back into classrooms could still change as state guidelines change along with the spread of COVID-19.

“Students need that structure, they need contact with their teachers, they also need contact with their peers,” said Daymond Monteith who worked on the operating plans for KU and Ponderosa Middle School.

The school board also moved the first day of school to September 8 from August 31 to allow more time to get teachers and staff trained on new safety protocols.

KU’s students will return full-time to high school, but classes will not follow the typical schedule. Students will attend two classes a day for about two and a half to three hours each as opposed to the typical seven class periods for 50 minutes each. The grading period will last six weeks before students switch to new classes.

“So rather than a typical 18-week semester to earn a credit, students will be in class for six weeks, but it’ll be for three times as much instructional time each day,” Monteith said.

The cohorts will be 22 to 25 students who will attend the same classes throughout the day with the same teachers, per state guidelines.

For Ponderosa Middle school, cohorts will take two core subjects one week and the other two the following week. Core classes include math, English, science and social studies.

The model for middle and elementary schools means students will either attend in the morning or afternoon for about three hours. In-person classes will be core subjects, while electives and other subjects could be taught online with 60 to 90 minutes of at-home learning each day.

It’s unknown if and how more high-risk classes such as labs, physical education and performing arts, will be offered.

The latest guidance from the Oregon School Activities Association about fall sports states that practices can begin August 17 with first games pushed back to September 23. Hillyer said that KFCS has required that all practices take place outside, including sports like weightlifting and basketball.

Superintendent Dr. Paul Hillyer said the way schools operate could change after school starts in September and once administrators get a better sense of how many students show up for in-person classes.

Those who don’t feel comfortable sending their children to school can choose the online River Academy, which Hillyer said will include instruction from certified teachers, follow-ups with families and school work monitoring to ensure kids in the online program keep pace with those in the classroom.

Hillyer said there’s a possibility elementary and middle schools can go to full time in-person learning if enough students choose distance learning and there is enough space in buildings for those who choose to attend school to socially distance all day.

State guidelines require students and staff get screened each day for symptoms and that each classroom should ensure each person has 35 square-feet of space around them.

Each building must create an “isolation space” where students or staff will go if they display COVID-19 symptoms. Dr. Wendy Niskanen, who has worked on the public health component of the district’s plans, spoke Monday night about her efforts to try to make those spaces less scary for kids.

Buildings will also have a “social distancing coordinator,” which Niskanen described as a sort of cheerleader who would encourage kids doing a good job of keeping their distance.

Despite all the planning, if the state legislature doesn’t approve liability protection for school districts in the case of COVID-19 spreading in a school, KFCS will scrap in-person plans and move to distance learning.

Administrators are also working through child care options, keeping working parents in mind while drafting the morning and afternoon split schedules.

Hillyer said his inbox is open for those who still have questions of concerns. He is assembling a document to go on the district’s website and to parents’ emails hopefully by the end of next week.

He’s received the full spectrum of opinions on how schools should operate this school year from parents calling for all day every day instruction to those who say there’s no way kids should be back in school yet.

“It’s one of those situations where you know you won’t please everyone,” Hillyer said.

The district has submitted the plan to the state and Klamath County Public Health for review but is moving forward with the blueprint in the meantime.

Hillyer also announced his retirement effective the end of the school year Monday night after a career in education spanning 41 years, including 10 years with KFCS.

Despite so much planning already completed, Hillyer said there’s still many details to work out and they’ll continue to meet and watch how guidance changes.

Read the full Klamath Falls City Schools blueprint for reopening at kfalls.k12.or.us.