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Athena-Weston schools to use cohorts and staggered start times to safely return to classrooms

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Weston Schools

Students in the Athena-Weston School District are expected to be able to make a full return to the classroom when schools reopen this fall, according to a plan Superintendent Laure Quaresma was scheduled to present to the school board on Wednesday evening.

ATHENA — Students in the Athena-Weston School District are expected to be able to make a full return to the classroom when schools reopen this fall, according to a plan Superintendent Laure Quaresma was scheduled to present to the school board on Wednesday evening.

Quaresma said the schools have enough room and staff to break some classes down into smaller groups in order to meet distancing guidelines.

But all students will be able to be in the building at the same time, eliminating a need to move to an A/B block schedule that would see two groups of students take turns attending classes in person.

“We mapped out all the classroom space in our district,” Quaresma said. “We have really large classrooms. A typical classroom is around 900 square feet and ours are almost 1,300.”

Quaresma said the large classrooms and small class sizes in the elementary and middle schools make a return easy. Planning for the high school, however, is a little harder. Using cohorts makes it possible though, Quaresma said.

The district will use staggered arrival times to reduce the number of students on the buses and entering school at the same time. For example, at the high school some cohorts will began classes at 8 a.m. while others will start at 8:30 a.m.

Avoiding the need for an A/B schedule was important to Quaresma.

“We made that a priority,” she said. “We looked at that while, of course, looking at safety and public health. For us, we felt like getting kids back was critical. … Kids need interaction with teachers and their peers. That was a huge priority. That became number one.”

She also said when schools closed in March, providing meals and lessons to students living outside the towns was a challenge. Some students didn’t have internet access and weren’t able to pick up meals every day. So, teachers loaded classes onto thumb drives that were delivered to some families, along with meals.

Quaresma said having all students return to school will make it easier to ensure each student has access to the learning and nutritional resources the district offers.

Students who are unable to return to in-person instruction because of health concerns will have distance-learning options available to them.

If the need for distance learning is short term, students can continue to learn from their current teachers for a smooth transition to in-person instruction when they are able.

The district has partnered with other districts to provide an online program for students who will be out of school longer.

One challenge the school won’t be faced with is having to make sure all students are wearing masks all day. In Oregon, while staff and teachers are required to wear some form of face coverings, students are not.

While individual districts are allowed to require masks, Quaresma said her district has decided not to.

Oregon schools have until Aug. 15 to submit a plan to the state. Quaresma hopes to do that soon.

“The process for Oregon requires us to submit to the Umatilla Health Authority and work with them prior to submitting our plans to Oregon Department of Education,” Quaresma said. “We have already met with Umatilla Health Authority and plan to submit to the state following our board meeting.”

Jeremy Burnham can be reached at jeremyburnham@wwub.com or 509-551-8896.

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