SALEM — School will look much more normal this fall, with students attending class in-person for five full days, teachers taking regular attendance and both going about unmasked during recess and other outdoor activities.
But the Oregon Department of Education, which is drafting its coronavirus mitigation guidelines for the new year, might still require students to wear face masks in classrooms and ask districts to offer an all-remote learning option.
The draft guidelines, which the agency will officially adopt in late July, are not final nor do they lay out exactly what the future holds for Oregon’s approximately 560,000 public K-12 students.
But the document does provide a look at which pandemic policies and procedures that the Department of Education adopted last March the agency is likely to adjust or even drop as more Oregonians become vaccinated and the state creeps back toward normalcy.
The agency will likely encourage, rather than mandate, that schools keep children three feet apart “to the degree possible,” a departure from its current guidance. It will also require districts to automatically unenroll a student upon a 10th consecutive absence, a state rule the Department of Education temporarily dropped “to serve students to the maximum extent possible.”
The Department of Education also says it will relinquish its role in deciding when and whether districts can allow visitors inside school buildings, how to screen students for symptoms of COVID-19 and whether to split pupils into cohorts.
But the agency will still require districts to plan how they will isolate and quarantine students and tell families if there’s a positive case in a school.
On the academic side, the department likely won’t allow districts to keep a student from moving up a grade level or signing up for advanced classes in a math or English sequence based on how they performed during the pandemic.
Likewise, academic achievement over the last 14 months shouldn’t bar students from participating in sports and other extracurriculars.
“You shouldn’t limit a student’s opportunity to advance in a course just based on what was happening to their performance during the pandemic,” Cindy Hunt, the agency’s manager for government and legal affairs, told the Oregon Senate Education Committee last week.
The advancement guidelines dovetail with a bill the House Education Committee approved that would waive the requirement for students in Oregon’s classes of 2022, 2023 and 2024 to demonstrate basic proficiency in math, reading and writing in order to earn a diploma. The legislation is likely to be signed by Gov. Kate Brown after the Senate votes on it.
The Department of Education will also require that students who opt for remote learning next year take standardized tests and spend at least half of their time in class synchronously with their teacher.
The agency will officially adopt its new rules July 22.
Until then, the Department of Education is surveying school officials across the state on its draft guidelines. Agency leaders will brief the state Board of Education on the rules June 17.