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4J School District Prepares for Return to In-Person Learning, Staff Vaccinations

Brian Bull


After schools closed for winter break, Gov. Kate Brown announced on Dec. 23 that school reopening restrictions would shift from mandatory to advisory recommendations. This was with the goal of having more schools statewide return to some form of in-person learning by Feb. 15. 

The change to advisory recommendations allows individual districts to return to learning based on their county’s public health conditions. But that doesn’t mean 4J will immediately return to in-person learning.

In-Person Learning May Resume in Feb.

As of now, the district’s reopening plan is to have the youngest grade levels begin a hybrid learning model on Feb. 1 at the earliest, depending on public health conditions.

Lane County still has a high COVID-19 case count of about three times the maximum recommended level for returning to in-person learning. With the current COVID-19 cases being so high, it’s unlikely there will be any instruction changes next week. Districts are expecting a potential shift in state reopening guidelines to be announced Jan. 19. 4J said they will evaluate how any changes will impact their reopening plans.

Educator Needs for In-person Learning

Some staff may face potential childcare barriers with the return learning. Roughly 1,500 employees — more than half of 4J’s staff — responded to a district survey. Over 200 of surveyed staff, 14%, said they have a need for childcare and it has not been covered.

“When we return in the hybrid model, most of our staff will be onsite with all cohorts of students in all weeks while the students, their children, will be onsite only in their onsite weeks, and only for a shorter school day,” said 4J Chief of Staff Kerry Delf.

During the meeting, Eugene Education Association President Sabrina Gordon read a letter written on behalf of more than 700 EEA members, which was addressed to the Eugene and Bethel school districts.

“We call on the Bethel and 4J school districts to remain in comprehensive distance learning until the following safety conditions are met,” said Gordon. “Both does of vaccinations are readily available to educators, including all staff in schools, and time allowed for these vaccinations to become fully effective. Lane County health metrics are at the levels currently set for a hybrid of onsite and distance learning. Specifically a county case rate between 50-99 cases per 100,000 [people] over 14 days, and test positivity rate below 8%.”

Other requests include the implementation of adequate personal protective equipment, sufficient nursing and custodial staff, proper ventilation and class sizes, as well as furniture to accommodate six feet in between each person.

“Until these conditions are met, only staff who volunteered to be in-person with students should be expected to do so,” said Gordon. “And until vaccinations are available to the community at-large—including students—districts should continue to provide the option of an online-only pathway for learning.”

Gordon also stressed the need for educators to be involved in the trauma-informed strategies to help students with social and emotional learning and behavioral health support.

4J’s elementary hybrid operations planning team could help alleviate some of teacher’s return to learning concerns. The group composed of 34 members — 10 administrators and 24 teachers — is tasked with supporting teachers navigating hybrid instruction.

“We realize that as we’re planning for hybrid, it’s a little bit of a different approach than when we were all doing comprehensive distance learning,” said Director of Pre-K–8 Education Brooke Wagner. “In hybrid, we have school sizes ranging from 120 to over 500. And what would maybe work for our larger elementary schools might not work at our smaller elementary schools.”

Schedule for Staff Vaccinations Unknown

In the meantime, 4J is preparing their COVID-19 immunization plan. Although vaccinations are not required for staff, the district is making plans to provide vaccines for its almost 3,000 employees — including substitutes, employees on leave, and potentially student teachers. 

4J plans to work with two main providers to roll out the vaccine:  Cascade Health and PeaceHealth. It is undetermined if or how much Lane County Public Health will be assisting the district. 

4J Director of Human Resources Karen Hardin said the district is working with these outside partners to vaccinate staff as soon as shots are available. 4J’s health services team of nurses, health clerks, and athletic trainers will soon be vaccinated under PeaceHealth’s 1A vaccination designation.

But Hardin said the district must be strategic when making plans to administer the vaccine.

“You don’t want to vaccinate an entire school because then if people get sick, then you’ve eliminated an entire school,” said Hardin. “There’s a real strategy that our healthcare providers are suggesting that you are very strategic in portions of groups are vaccinated at a time so that you don’t eliminate everyone from that job set or that team.”

The district is still working on the rest of their prioritization list to determine who will get the vaccine first.

“I’m not sharing that this is the order, but clearly the groups that are interacting with kids now and those that will be interacting with kids in the very near future.”

Hardin said she expects it to take a period of two to three weeks for the first dose to be administered to all staff.

Elizabeth Gabriel is a former KLCC Public Radio Foundation Journalism Fellow. She is an education reporter at WFYI in Indianapolis.
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