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Othello to keep schools on blended schedule

by CHERYL SCHWEIZER
Staff Writer | March 17, 2021 1:00 AM

OTHELLO — Othello schools may remain in a hybrid model through the end of the school year, with the goal of returning to complete in-person instruction at the beginning of the 2021-22 school year.

Assistant superintendent of teaching and learning Pete Perez said district officials will review conditions every two to three weeks. If conditions warrant, school officials may increase the number of students getting in-person instruction.

District officials will report current conditions and recommendations at the remaining Othello School Board meetings through the end of the school year in June, Perez said.

Othello students returned to school for in-person instruction half-time in January, called the blended model. The state ordered schools closed in March 2020 due to the coronavirus outbreak, and stayed closed through the end of the 2019-20 school year.

Othello schools originally were scheduled to reopen in the blended model in August, but a surge in coronavirus cases pushed that back. Kindergartners through third-graders started in-person learning briefly in November, then went back to all-online instruction until January.

Perez presented the results so far to school board members at the March 8 board meeting.

“We’ve really been living in the blended model for several weeks now. We are not seeing outbreaks of illness in our schools,” Perez said.

The prospects for increased in-person instruction for the rest of the 2020-21 school year depend, in part, on the grade level. Perez said the schedules at Othello High School and McFarland Middle School were written to meet conditions in the middle of the pandemic.

“You cannot undo that work, particularly at the secondary level,” Perez said.

The rules for kindergarten through sixth grade might allow district officials to expand in-person instruction, but there would have to be changes in social distancing rules, he said.

“If we get some flexibility there (in social distancing rules) and the numbers continue to be low in Othello, I think we’ll have to respond, specifically K-6, to see if we can bring more kids on campus,” Perez said.

“Our recommendation as of (March 8), is that we would hold off until August of 2021, run a significant and robust summer school program to ramp up, and hope that the vaccines are widespread enough, the numbers are down enough, that we could come back to a better educational system in the fall of 2021,” he said.

Board member Lindsy Prows said she had talked to about 40 to 50 people with children in school, and all but one of them preferred to stay with the current schedule through the end of the school year. She asked if district officials would be willing to expand in-person instruction at the elementary level this school year, if conditions permit.

“When it’s time, we should bring kids back. We closed pretty quickly, I think we should be prepared and ready to go back when we get the clearance and guidance that we can do it safely,” Perez said.

Loryn Maples and Elise Garza, the student representatives to the board, said the OHS students they have talked to prefer to stay with the blended schedule through the end of the current school year. The switch from all-online to blended instruction caused a lot of stress, Garza said, and another switch would just add more stress.

High school students are at school half-days, with online instruction the remaining half. Maples said it gives kids more time for homework, school activities and jobs.

“I don’t want another change,” she said. “I think we found a good system, I think we found what works. I think we should just stay where we are.”