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Salem-Keizer Schools to begin hybrid learning in March

Officials say hybrid learning will start with the district's youngest learners.

SALEM, Ore. — Salem-Keizer Schools, the second-largest district in Oregon, has announced it’ll begin hybrid learning for its youngest students at the beginning of March.

In the hybrid model, students will split their time between the classroom and learning online.

For some parents, it’s good news.

Annalisa Cole is mom to two boys, Gavin who is in 8th grade and Austin who is in 4th grade.

She said distance learning has been especially rough on her youngest child.

“When we did the distance learning last year it was a hot mess. He would throw temper tantrums on the floor because he didn’t want to do school,” said Cole.

This school year, Cole said her youngest son has made strides, in part because of the help his grandmother is giving him. She was able to retire in October and now helps him with school.

“I feel like it’s a lot of pressure on the grandparents that are helping. They’ve given up their lives to help us,” Cole said.

Credit: Annalisa Cole
Annalisa Cole's sons with their grandmother

“It’s really a big struggle for us full-time working parents to maintain this lifestyle for our children. We’re exhausted. The kids are exhausted, mentally, physically, emotionally. It’s hard,” she said.

She’s looking forward to hybrid learning for her 4th grader, Austin. It’s expected he’ll be able to start next month.

Credit: Annalisa Cole
The Cole family

On Thursday, the district released an informational video for parents detailing some of its plans and timeline.

“We will start with bringing our youngest learners into the classroom first. As for our middle and high school students, we are still planning what that will look like and when that will happen,” said Superintendent Christy Perry, in the video.

Here’s the timeline for hybrid learning in the Salem-Keizer School District:

Kids in kindergarten and first grades are expected to start hybrid learning on March 2, then students in grades 2-3 on March 9, and 4th and 5th graders will be added on March 16.

“Your students will either attend school on Tuesday and Thursday or on Wednesdays and Fridays,” said Perry.

Perry said parents can find out which group their child will be in by logging into the Parent View app or the website and navigating to the ‘student information’ section.

She said Mondays will be reserved for helping specific students who need it, outreach, and professional learning for staff.

Perry said COVID-19 safety procedures have been in place since September, with enhanced cleaning, social distancing, and mask-wearing among the kids who have already been a part of limited in-person instruction.

But some teachers say they still don’t feel safe and are uncomfortable returning to the classroom in the pandemic.

Julia Bueno is a first-grade teacher at Chavez Elementary in the district.

She said teachers have worked harder than ever.

“It’s been really tough for all of us and we want to be back in school but we’re not really given an option on how to do that safely,” said Bueno.

She doesn’t know if she’ll be allowed to opt-out of hybrid learning. Bueno said she’s not only scared her family will get COVID, but her students’ families too.

Credit: Julia Bueno
Julia Bueno (pictured second from left) with family

In addition, she said going back to in-person learning may disrupt many families who have already become accustomed to a routine.

“It’s asking parents to literally change their whole lives again,” Bueno said.

She said for personal reasons she has not received the vaccine, but believes most kindergarten and first-grade teachers have at least received their first dose.

One special education instructional assistant who has been helping kids with limited in-person instruction said she is comfortable with the safety protocols at her school. Her concern is that kids may spread the virus to their families.

Julisa Rodriguez teaches fourth grade in the district’s online EDGE Online Learning Program. She teaches kids whose families decided to keep them in distance learning for the whole year. She said it’s not clear if parents who have opted to keep their child in the EDGE program will be able to now switch to hybrid mid-year.

She said she’s heard concerns from fellow teachers who aren’t sure if students will follow safety rules.

“We can’t force kids to wear a mask,” said Rodriguez.

Cole said she has faith kids will follow the rules.

“We already are wearing masks. We’re already social distancing, six feet apart. It’s not going to be any different. At least they’re going to be able to see their friends,” said Cole.

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