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The North Powder School District completed its new school and gym in 2019. The district plans to reopen its schools Aug. 31 with students attending classes four days a week and social distancing protocols in place.

NORTH POWDER — North Powder School District Superintendent Lance Dixon said he believes students benefit most from learning at school with their classmates, not at home via distance education.

This is why Dixon has announced school in North Powder is set to begin Aug. 31 with all students attending in classrooms four days a week. The plan is designed to meet COVID-19 social distancing rules. Dixon said this is what parents desire for their sons and daughters.

“For the most part they want their kids back in school every day,” said Dixon, whose school district has operated on a four-day week for at least the past three decades.

Should North Powder reopen its schools, it would be the first time for regular classes there since mid-March when Oregon closed all schools due to the coronavirus pandemic. Teachers taught the remainder of the 2019-20 school year via distance education.

“While we cannot yet plan for school as normal, we have worked within the guidelines from the Oregon Department of Education to create a plan that gets us as close to a normal year as possible,” Dixon told parents in a letter. “If the Oregon Department of Education requirements change, we will revise the plan accordingly.”

Dixon said students need to get back to school for their own mental well-being.

“Their routine and extracurricular activities were taken away from them. We will create issues we have not seen yet (if students cannot soon return to school). Students need socialization,” he said.

Dixon said that under the plan, elementary classes would be fairly traditional, while secondary classes, grades 6-12, would be taught in cohorts of 17-24 students. Dixon said North Powder is in a good position to offer on-site classes while conforming to social distancing rules. He explained the district’s classrooms can accommodate up to 24 students and still meet social distancing rules, and all of North Powder’s classes have about 25 students or fewer.

Instruction in all classes would be livestreamed on the internet, allowing students who cannot attend to watch in real time at home or via archived video. Dixon said the livestreaming will be important because state rules will require students who miss school because of an illness to remain home longer than usual as a precaution.

Should the state make social distancing rules more stringent, the North Powder School District would activate a plan B reopening, with half of the students attending school on-site on alternative days during a four-day week. On the alternate days, students would attend classes via distance education, Dixon said. This would ultimately mean students would attend school two days a week and study at home two days.

The Oregon Department of Education is requiring all Oregon school districts to submit their reopening plans to it by Aug. 15. Dixon said the Union County Public Health Department too will review North Powder School District’s reopening plan to determine whether it meets social distancing requirements.

General assignment reporter

Beats include the communities of North Powder, Imbler, Island City and Union, education, Union County veterans programs and local history. Dick joined The Observer in 1983, first working as a sports and outdoors reporter.

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