Update posted July 28

The Chronicle is reaching out to school districts in Columbia County to find out what changes, if any, are being made to the districts' back to school procedures for the new year ahead following new COVID-19 health and safety recommendations from the Oregon Health Authority and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The following is the response we have received from the St. Helens School District.

"At this time, we anticipate that all students will have the opportunity to participate in a regular schedule (full-time and in-person learning from Monday - Friday). We know that families have unanswered questions regarding mask mandates and social distancing.

"As a district, we are reviewing the latest recommendations from the CDC and ODE, as well as working closely with local health officials and our school board to determine what is best for our students, staff, and community. We will share more details about health and safety protocols as we get closer to the start of school.

Students who prefer to remain online for the 2021-2022 school year are able to enroll in St. Helens Virtual Academy (SHVA)."

The Chronicle will update the districts' health and safety policies as we receive new information.

Previous Chronicle coverage posted July 24

School Districts in Columbia County are now preparing for the new school year ahead, just a few weeks away.

Back To School

The St. Helens School District expects to fully reopen schools to full-day, five-day, and in-person learning this fall. The district is also prepared to offer virtual learning options for students.

Each district is following the Oregon Department of Education's (ODE) new Resiliency Framework guidelines, which allows local control as the schools reopen following the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

The Chronicle has received the following insight about the new school year ahead from the St. Helens School District.

The Chronicle: Given the recommendations from the

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the ODE, what should parents and students know about the district's overall plan for the new school year?

St. Helens School District: The St. Helens School District expects to fully reopen schools to full-day, five-day, and in-person learning this fall. We maintain those expectations based on the Oregon Department of Education announcement of the Resiliency Framework for the 2021-2022 school year dated June 25, 2021.

There are always many details to opening school in the fall, and this year those details will include things like COVID-19 safety measures. We of course will continue to partner with public health officials and plan to keep families updated as we finalize those details over the summer.

The Chronicle: Does the overall plan include distance learning as well as in-person instruction? If so, why, if not, why?

St. Helens School District: Yes, we will continue to have a virtual option for St. Helens School District families through our online program, St. Helens Virtual Academy. This program uses a mix of lessons that are led by St. Helens teachers and lessons that students complete on their own.

The Chronicle: Did the district experience a loss of students this past year? If so, why? And does the district expect less students next year and why?

St. Helens School District: As many families experience uncertainty with COVID, some families chose to keep their students at home instead of choosing the hybrid model, which brought students to school two days a week. Thankfully, as a district, we have not seen a significant dip in enrollment trends. We were very fortunate that we were able to provide those families with the option of choosing to place their students in our online option. We have had great success with our virtual academy and will have this option available to families this year as well.

The Chronicle: What overall health and safety procedures from the pandemic will be in place at the schools and why?

St. Helens School District: One thing that the pandemic has reminded all of us of is to be diligent in our handwashing and surface area cleaning. We will continue to have hand-sanitizing stations throughout our buildings and put extra time and effort into making sure surface areas stay clean and sanitized. As far as cohorting, social distancing, and whether or not our students or staff will wear masks, that will be determined at a later date with the assistance and guidance of local health officials.

Around Columbia County

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.

“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.

Follow the new school year in a series of stories at thechronicleonline.com and in the Wednesday print editions of The Chronicle. For more information, contact the St. Helens School District at 503-397-3085.

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