Salem-Keizer superintendent Christy Perry has a check-in video call with Schirle Elementary special education teacher Annie Hatzenbihler on Tuesday, April 14. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)
More than 40,000 Salem-Keizer students will meet their teachers through a computer screen as classes begin in September.
Superintendent Christy Perry announced Tuesday Oregon’s second-largest school district would hold all classes remotely until at least Nov. 16, with high school juniors and seniors learning online through the end of the semester on Jan. 29, 2021.
Classes will also start one week late, on Sept. 14, with teachers reaching out to families beginning Sept. 8.
The decision came following new metrics from Gov. Kate Brown announced Tuesday, which would require significantly lower rates of Covid infection in nearly every Oregon county before schools could hold physical classes.
Marion County reported 264 residents newly diagnosed with the virus in the past week, about eight times higher than the rate required by Brown to let schools reopen. The county would also need to lower the percentage of tests coming back positive. Polk County was also over the threshold on both metrics.
Perry said while the news wasn’t what she and other educators hoped for, having a clear path forward after weeks of uncertainty was a relief.
“We’re just kind of heartbroken about not being able to see kids in person right away but I’m relieved for very clear metrics,” Perry said. “It was feeling like Covid is rising and we were going to put educators and the community and students at risk.”
Hundreds of teachers, parents and concerned citizens staged a drive-by protest at the Oregon Capitol on Monday calling for school to remain online until cases decrease.
District administrators will review health data in mid-October to determine if they can bring students back on Nov. 16.
Perry said she hopes the community will help students return to school by following health guidelines to limit the spread of the virus.
‘Our community has to persist on face coverings, on physical distancing, on handwashing. We know what works to flatten the curve and it’s up to us,” she said.
Classes will look different in other ways too. Perry said she wants parents to know school will be more rigorous and better planned than the spring transition to online classes, which felt chaotic and ineffective for many families.
“We’re 150% committed to it being better than the spring. We’ve had more time to plan. We’ve listened carefully to some of the challenges,” she said.
The changes mean attendance will be taken and student work graded. Families will get more regular feedback on student performance, and Perry said the district is working to provide training and help for parents so they can better help their students learn at home.
Students will also have more face-to-face time with teachers and other educators online.
Middle and high school students will take fewer classes at a time on a quarter system, reflecting feedback from the spring that juggling seven or eight classes remotely was difficult.
Salem-Keizer parents still have two choices for the fall.
They can enroll students in EDGE, a new online academy the district is creating for students of all grades. Students in EDGE will remain online for the entire school year even if health guidelines allow for school reopening.
About 2,000 students had already signed up for EDGE as of Tuesday morning.
Otherwise, students will start the year online but transition back to school buildings once health guidelines allow.
Perry said the plan also allows the district more time to plan for in-person classes, which has been difficult because of shifting guidelines from the state.
“We want what you want. We want our kids back in person. We’ll monitor the metrics carefully and we’re all in this together,” Perry said.
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Do you have questions about school reopening guidelines or what class will look like in the fall? Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.