Schools still planning for Feb. opening

After Gov. Kate Brown announced last month the goal of having students return to in-person classes by mid-February, the leaders of Salem-Keizer Public Schools (SKPS) have been coming up with a plan to have kids safely re-enter their school buildings.

On Tuesday, Jan. 12, assistant superintendent Kraig Sproles addressed the Salem-Keizer School Board and informed them where the district was at in the reopening process.

The message that elementary students are the priority and will be the first ones to return to school has been consistent throughout the pandemic. That emphasis hasn’t changed as Sproles stated that getting elementary students back to in-person instruction will be the district’s main focus.

“Some of the gaps that happen in early elementary are really hard to get over with a digital learning experience. If you can’t read and you don’t have someone to sit next to you to help you navigate a computer, it’s going to be hard to learn to read. That’s why that focus is there,” Sproles said.

Over the last several months, SKPS has been working collaboratively with Marion County and Polk County health authorities. The groups are still in the process of developing a vaccination schedule for SKPS educators.

However, Sproles did inform the board that school nurses, occupational therapists and physical therapists in the district received vaccinations on Jan. 4.

While the district is doing their best to bring students back to in-person learning, Sproles clarified that students would still be under a hybrid model and would be in cohorts that go to class either Tuesday and Thursday or Wednesday and Friday.

“When we say bringing students in for in-person instruction, that still is a hybrid model. They will still have the digital learning component,” Sproles said. “When we bring back students, we will have to cohort students really tightly. We need to follow all of our physical distancing, our facial coverings and our 35 square feet per person in a space. All of those things still need to be followed.”

If or when a student tests positive for COVID-19, the cohort will return to temporary online learning.

“We will have cases from the community brought into our schools. That just is something that will happen. When that happens, we will work closely with Marion and Polk to isolate the cases and trace them down using contact tracing, which means we may have to pull out cohorts of students,” Sproles said. “That’s the positive of the cohort. If you have a few people test positive, you don’t have to shut down the entire school.”

Assistant superintendent Iton Udosenata also shared that the district will be soliciting feedback on in-person plans from educators, students and others in the community.

“We want to maximize our communication to make sure that all community members know the details about how we plan to bring students back safely. But we also want to give an opportunity for parents and community members to ask questions and provide input that we will bring back to our planning teams as we move forward,” Udosenata said.