SALEM, Ore. (KOIN) — On Tuesday, the Salem-Keizer Public Schools will launch their return to school, but they’ve had to do things a little differently even though they’ve had some limited in-person leaning going on for a while.
District officials are thrilled to get more kids back in school because it’s clear how much it means for all kids to have in-person connections. But they’ve had to re-think everything — from what’s in class, the spacing in class, the work flows and the transportation system.
Kindergartners and 1st-graders start hybrid this week. By March 15 all elementary students up to 5th-grade will be phased in. The hybrid model is 2 days a week in-person for 5 hours each day. The other school days are at home.
A plan to bring middle and high schoolers back is still in the planning stages.
Salem-Keizer reconfigured their classrooms, removed as many things as possible from the class to create more spaced. The desks and seating arrangements are distanced.
So while your kindergartner’s classroom won’t have a rug or a bean bag chair, Salem-Keizer Superintendent Christy Perry said they’ve decorated the schools to make kids feel at home while they’ve developed safety protocols to keep kids comfortable.
“The teachers have a really good plan for how the kids have their own materials and don’t share materials because you don’t want to share materials, because then you’d have to clean between,” Perry said. “In the hallways there’s dots on the floor for where kids need to stand. So we have all the visual cues and reminders as well.”
They’ve practiced their safety protocol for months. Students have shown so far to be more than compliant with masks, doing whatever it takes to be back in the classroom with their teachers and friends.
But, Perry said, in order for it to work parents, students and staff need to stay in the mindset that we’re all in this together to get kids back in class safely. That will help with their learning and curriculum plus develop important social and emotional skills.
One hurdle: Transportation
A new bus schedule based on a hybrid system had to be created. Kids have to be spread out on the bus to keep physical distance — which means a 75-seat bus can now only hold about 35 kids.
It helps that only half the kids are going to school on any given day but it is still a strain across the system. If your child needs bussing, the Salem Keizer Public Schools implemented a rider’s registration system.
As of February 26, Marion County lowered into the High Risk Level category. This means their COVID-19 cases in their community are going down and that the district is no longer required by the state to do onsite COVID-19 testing for symptomatic students and staff.
However, as an extra safety net, Superintendent Perry said they are still implementing the testing anyway.
“We just think it adds another safety protocol,” she said. “We’re doing some hiring of some additional medically trained staff in order to administer tests. While they’re supposed to be self-administered, we believe strongly that 5-year-olds need some supervision with that.”
She added that she’s thankful Marion County’s metrics are going down at time when they’re opening their doors.