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Oregon and SW Washington school districts answer your back-to-school questions

We took your questions to five districts across Oregon and Southwest Washington and learned what will look different this fall.

PORTLAND, Ore — Going back to school this year will look very different for most students in Oregon and Southwest Washington. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, most districts will begin the year virtually. 

But as many students and parents found out last spring, distance learning comes with its own set of challenges. 

Last month, KGW put out a survey asking for parents' back-to-school questions and received dozens of responses. Parents from across the area weighed in, sharing their concerns for the upcoming school year. 

RELATED: First day of school for kids in Portland Public School District

We took your questions to five school districts in Oregon and Southwest Washington and learned how they'll be adjusting this fall. 

The five districts we spoke with are Beaverton School District, Evergreen Public Schools, Portland Public Schools, Tigard-Tualatin School District and Salem-Keizer Public Schools.

1- HOW WILL GRADING AND ATTENDANCE WORK?

Last spring, many districts switched their grading to "pass/fail" in order to accommodate teachers and students during the abrupt move to online learning. But all the districts we spoke to said grades will be given this fall. 

Attendance will also be taken but in a variety of ways that suit the virtual learning model. 

On Grading:

Dr. Sue Rieke Smith, Tigard-Tualatin School District Superintendent: 

"Now that we know that we are potentially looking at, at least a full semester, if not beyond that depending on what the covid metrics are, we have asked as superintendents statewide to go back to a traditional grading system.

"So in Tigard-Tualatin that means we are standards-based grading K-5, which is a 1-4, and grades 6-12 will receive a traditional A through F grade."

On Attendance:

Shellie-Bailey Shah, Communications Director at Beaverton School District:

"Attendance will be taken. However, proving attendance will look a little bit different. Maybe a student will attend a live session, maybe they'll watch a recorded video from their teacher, maybe they'll have a one-on-one with their teacher, it all counts.

"At the elementary level students are required to have one teacher interaction per day and at the secondary level it's one per class, per day."

 2 - WHAT WILL A TYPICAL SCHOOL DAY LOOK LIKE?

The five districts we spoke with said they expect the curriculum to be more rigorous this fall. The day-to-day schedule will include a combination of live "synchronous" learning, recorded lessons, wellness checks, and independent work time. 

The amount of time dedicated to each learning method will vary by grade.

Kraig Sproles, Assistant Superintendent at Salem-Keizer Public Schools: For kindergartners, we were thinking about 45 minutes to an hour is about the synchronous time but it's spread throughout the day. So the amount of engagement for kinders would be about 2.5 hours but it goes up from there of course.

Getting into our high schoolers, they will engage for more like 4.5 - 5 hours a day which is more similar to a traditional learning environment that we would've had in a brick and mortar experience. 

3 - WILL LUNCH BE AVAILABLE TO STUDENTS?

Districts will be continuing, and in some cases, expanding their grab & go meal options this fall. Check your school district's website for specific pickup times and locations.

Dr. Shawn Bird, Chief of Schools at Portland Public Schools: 

Last spring we had 15 sites that we allowed children to come and get food from. This year we're going to be expanding that to 36 sites that children will be able to go to. So hopefully [the sites] are more convenient to students' houses.

There will be two days a week that they'll be able to get their food in the afternoon. And obviously they will be able to get food for multiple days so that they will have enough to carry them over until the next time that we serve food. 

We're very happy that in the spring, up until the end of our summer lunch program, we served over 1.2 million meals and we look forward to continuing that very successful program but expanding it this year. 

4 - HOW WILL STUDENTS SOCIALIZE?

One of the most common concerns we read in the KGW survey was around socializing and making sure students have adequate time to connect with their peers.

Each district is coming up with its own creative ideas to get students connected. Some of the plans that were mentioned include: increased virtual group activities, daily advisory period, resuming extracurricular activities and clubs (remotely), and organized Zoom lunches.       

Julie Tumelty, Executive Director of Teaching & Learning at Evergreen Public Schools: 

All of our classes are going to have a social-emotional learning context. So within the classroom we are going to really work on building community in all grades, K-12.

And then we have to look at how we can do other social pieces. Some of our counselors in the spring started lunch buddies, lunch bunch, and pulled kids together...We're also looking at what clubs and activities we can do virtually in the fall. 

5 - HOW WILL PARENTS BE SUPPORTED?

Some parents are able to stay home with their kids but many don't have that option. The districts we spoke to emphasized the flexibility of their learning models, all of which are designed to accommodate various schedules.

They also highlighted additional resources like help lines, instructional videos and training courses that are designed to guide parents through the process this fall.

Salem-Keizer Public Schools and Tigard-Tualatin said they've expanded their childcare offerings, and other districts are working to do the same. 

Dr. Sue Rieke Smith, Tigard-Tualatin School District Superintendent: 

"All parents will have the opportunity, both towards the end of August, as well as going into September, for a 'technology bootcamp' about how to learn how to be facile about helping your child get on and stay on. 

"And we have opened up a massive help desk where parents can call directly for assistance so that we can help you navigate that.

"We are also working across the county, relative to additional child care, because we realize for a number of families they have to go back into the workplace, they cannot work remotely."

RELATED: First day of school for families in Vancouver Public School District