Hillsboro OKs School Opening Plan

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After a more than two-hour discussion that included board members, audience members, parents, school administrators, school nurses, teachers, aides, the transportation director and  a medical doctor, members of the Hillsboro School Board voted to start school under a plan that would allow families to choose whether students attended class this fall or participate in e-learning from home during a special meeting on Tuesday, July 21, in the junior high cafeteria.

The plan–presented during the regular board meeting last week but adopted Tuesday with two changes–passed 5-1; board members Earl Meier, Matt Lentz, Barbara Adams, Dan Wilson and Dan Tester voted in favor, and Bryce Rupert voted against. 

Another special meeting has been set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 4, at the junior high cafeteria to discuss how each school building administers the plan.

Superintendent David Powell said there were two significant changes to the plan that was first presented last month.  The first: Powell said he was incorrect that all students would be on free or reduced price lunches.  He asked high school Principal Patti Heyen to explain the other change.

She said at the high school, lunch hour and flex period would be eliminated to add four extra minutes to each class period.  

School would end at 1:09 p.m. and lunch would be distributed for students to take with them then; bus students would eat socially distanced in the cafeteria before loading on the bus.

"It reduces some concerns about students eating with masks off, and it gives us more class time," Heyen said, presenting a handout with the high school schedule revision.

That option only works at high school, Powell said, because asking younger students to not have lunch until after 1 p.m. and then hold it on the bus without eating until they get home would not be feasible.  Junior high Assistant Principal Zach Lipe said they have enough lunch modules and additional space to make socially distanced lunch work better there.

"Beckemeyer is the challenge," Powell said of lunch time.  "It's just a big elementary school."

Students who attend classes on any Hillsboro School District campus will be required to wear face masks or they will not be allowed to get on a bus or enter a building.

During the portion of the agenda set aside for audience comments, teachers union President Matt Vaughn commended the board for "consistently including teachers" in the planning process. "As teacher's union president, I have heard from a lot of teachers in the past few weeks. Their opinions vary widely."

Vaughn shared union survey results with the board.

"I'm going to ask you to show us some grace as we attempt to educate students during some trying circumstances," he asked the board.

"We run into new questions every week," Dr. Ben Cady shared with the board during the audience comment part of the agenda.  He was repeatedly asked for medical advice throughout the rest of the meeting, also. "We expect that a lot of what we do is  going to change.  Everything we are doing in America is not going to stop this virus.  We are aiming to mitigate it and slow things down enough until we get to a definitive treatment or definitive vaccine."

He also spoke in support of the "overwhelming evidence" of the use of masks in mitigating the virus.  "It slows down the spread of the disease."

Board vice president Adams asked Dr. Cady about the safety of eating without a mask, especially among grade school-age children.

"Once you take your mask off and you're within six feet, the risk is greater," Dr. Cady said.  "Either spread students out, or we can't endorse eating there. Kids not eating is also a risk."

Adams also asked the MD to comment on physical education, choir, and other possible problems.

"Outdoors, outdoors," Dr. Cady said.  "Being outside would definitely be the best."

Board member Bryce Rupert asked about stats from schools around the world that have reopened.  Dr. Cady said there is very little data; an exception is from South Korea.  Data there suggests kids still spread the disease, he said, but those under age ten spread it much less than older ones.

"In France, overwhelmingly kids tolerated the masks really well," Dr. Cady said;  even more so in Asian countries where mask-wearing was already much more common.

"What's your medical opinion on whether kids should be in school or not," Rupert asked the doctor.

"Kids learn best when they're in school," Dr. Cady said, "as long as we can do it within the guidelines."

Adams added that following those guidelines has to occur outside the classroom, also. "It has to be a community buy-in," she said, before asking about the recent local surge in county COVID-19 cases.

"Significant, yes. Surprising, no," Dr. Cady said, adding that he could not say whether the local surge is directly related to the Phase 4 reopening or not.

Powell asked Dr. Cady to comment on how many degrees of separation from a positive case before action is required.  The answer: contact within six feet for more than 15 minutes.

Rupert also asked how many cases it would take to shut school down. Powell anticipated, other than state action, staffing would be the primary concern that might suspend in-person classes.

In response to a question from Adams, Powell said all HVAC systems have been adjusted to cycle the maximum amount of fresh air into classrooms. "That means they'll operate a little less efficiently," he added.

The superintendent said required cleaning has also caused some concern; Dr. Cady said putting on gloves and using a 30-second disinfectant is exceptionally low risk.

Testing, types of masks, how masks are worn, the use of aides, risks for diabetic students, Plexiglas dividers, hot school busses, zero hour and off-campus classes, lunch choices, and the possibility of plans that limit the number of students in school were among other topics of discussion.

"The fewer kids in one space the safer," the doctor said. Regarding masks, he said "having something in front of your face is more important than what you're wearing."

Rupert also reintroduced the question of "synchronous learning" for students who are e-learning at home.

"What I'm concerned about is if we can do that effectively across all of our classrooms," Powell said. "I don't have confidence that we can do that consistently.  I agree that the model is good, but I'm not sure we can pull it off."

"The version of remote learning we will be able to provide this fall will be much more robust than we did this spring," the superintendent added.  "We have had more time to prepare and we've got more tools.  Our remote learning will be much, much better."

At the end of the meeting, the board hired Beth Cady as assistant high school volleyball coach and Corbin Govaia as assistant boys high school basketball coach.

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