Clemens Primary School
Clemens Primary School (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Philomath students in grades kindergarten through the third grade will see the inside of a classroom for the first time in several months beginning Tuesday with the launch of a hybrid instructional model, Superintendent of Schools Susan Halliday said Wednesday.

The announcement could be made after the school district cleared final hurdles involving permissions from the state, county health officials and legal counsel. The move also occurs after school districts received new guidance updates on Tuesday afternoon from the Oregon Department of Education and the Oregon Health Authority.

Philomath Elementary School
Philomath Elementary School (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

In addition to K-3 students moving into the hybrid model on Jan. 26, students at Blodgett School will move directly into full in-classroom learning because of the limited number of students on that campus. Halliday estimates that fourth and fifth graders will begin hybrid learning on Feb. 9.

Halliday said that the district has not committed to a start date yet for middle and high school students because further review of state guidance needs to be completed.

“The complexities of middle and high school schedules mean that planning for student return, while adhering to all social distancing and cohort protocols, has a different set of considerations,” Halliday wrote in a letter to parents. “We will announce plans soon.”

In an interview with the Philomath News on Wednesday afternoon, Halliday said she believes the district will have enough teachers to accommodate the schedule change. There is some hesitation among some educators — especially those considered to be at risk for serious complications, or they live with someone in a high-risk category — about getting back into classrooms without the COVID-19 vaccination.

“One of the things that we’ve been committed to is being able to say, people have to look out for their lives and if they don’t feel comfortable being back at school in person with students, then there’s no judgment,” Halliday said. “People have to make decisions about what they need to do to feel comfortable to be able to come back.”

For those who may not want to be in a classroom, Halliday said the district is “going to try and find placement to the degree possible to allow them to be able to work.”

As an example, Halliday said at the elementary level, there are four classrooms per grade level. When the students head back, three of those classrooms will be in-person learning and the fourth will remain in comprehensive distance learning.

“That has taken into account some of these people who wouldn’t return if we didn’t have that as an option,” Halliday said. “We’re looking across the system to be able to see in part or in full what might we be able to do to keep people or move people around temporarily based on COVID, to make things work and keep people as whole as we possibly can in this time.”

Halliday said each school will determine what its version of a hybrid instruction model looks like. Not all students in the district will take advantage of the hybrid opportunity. The option for families to continue on with comprehensive distance learning remains.

Clemens Primary School (K-1) and Philomath Elementary School (grades 2-3) will have strict safety protocols in place when the doors open on Tuesday. Students will have designated entryways, will be screened upon arrival and will need to wear masks.

In addition, educators will work with students on adhering to social distancing protocols while in the building.

As far as teachers and employees, Halliday said reactions to heading back to class are all over the board.

“We have some people who are very excited that are just saying, ‘let’s pull off the Band-Aid and do it’ and there are others who continue to be fearful of the unknown,” Halliday said.

Later this week, a group will get together to look at any updates needed for the school district’s existing communicable disease management plan. The district will also work through a new template for needed operational blueprints and react to any issues.

The Tuesday informational meeting with the state included an upward adjustment of virus metrics and additional knowledge on return-to-classroom models through experiences in other states. The learning model also needed to align with Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements.

Halliday issued a reminder that the fluctuations and nuances seen with COVID-19 could lead to plan adjustments and added that she appreciates the support of families when it comes to needed flexibility moving forward.