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NSSD Q & A-updated 11/15/21

The following are questions from parents and community members. New questions will continue to be added or existing answers updated if the guidance of local health or governmental authorities change. 

Updated 11/15/21


COVID/MASKS/VACCINES

Is the District short staffed because of the state mandate that all school personnel be vaccinated (or apply for a medical or religious exemption)?
The District only lost three staff members as a result of the vaccine mandate and none of them were teachers. The District remains challenged to staff schools each day due to the lack of available substitutes. 

 

Are staff that received medical or religious exemptions to the vaccine mandate being required to take additional precautions?
Yes, most school districts, including NSSD, have implemented precautions for non-vaccinated staff. These include: wearing N-95 masks, weekly testing and restricting access to communal staff eating areas. The District has seen a much higher rate of COVID cases in non-vaccinated staff than breakthrough cases in vaccinated staff since August 2021. Our primary goal is to provide a full school year of in-person learning and we believe these precautions are necessary to mitigate the spread of the virus in order to do that. 

 

Does the vaccine mandate apply to school board members?
Only if board members are “teaching, working, providing care, learning, studying, assisting, observing, or volunteering at a school-based program”. Initial legal advice has indicated that attending board meetings does not apply to this standard. 

 

Will students be required to be vaccinated when there is full FDA approval?
The NSSD Superintendent and School Board have no intention of instituting a District mandate for student vaccines. The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) is required by statute to appoint an advisory committee to inform rule making around all school vaccination requirements. As a result of this statutory direction, the OHA has appointed the Oregon Immunization School/Children’s Facility/College Law Advisory Committee, known as ISLAC. Before adding a vaccination to the list of requirements, OHA convenes the ISLAC and then considers the committee’s recommendations. Vaccines must be fully FDA approved for this process to even begin. The process for making a permanent rule typically takes 4-6 months. Once a required vaccine is added to the rules, there is a process for a medical or non-medical exemption.

 

Is the District receiving money for complying with the mask mandate, vaccine mandate for staff or for supporting vaccines for students?
There is no “incentive” funding for complying with mask or vaccine mandates. The American Rescue Plan Act, 2021 (ARPA) which provides funding for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) was passed on March 11, 2021 to help safely reopen and sustain the safe operation of schools and address the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the nation’s students. The Oregon Dept of Education (ODE) was allocated $1.1 billion. ESSER III Fund grants can be used to reimburse eligible expenses incurred between March 13, 2020 and September 30, 2024.The funding is/was only made available to school districts that complied with the Governor’s COVID mandates.  

School districts who do not comply will also be subject to civil penalties and sanctions that could lead up to the suspension or revocation of administrative or teaching licenses. For more information, you can read Enforcement of OAR 333-019-1015 from ODE.

 

Why can healthy students be tested to see if they have COVID but quarantined students can't test out of quarantine?
The optional weekly screening program is made available to all students in grades K-12 through grant funding from the Oregon Health Authority. It is advised for students who are “without symptoms of or exposure to COVID-19”. The screening was intended to help gauge the level of the virus in communities around the state and help identify asymptomatic students to reduce exposures. This is different from the guidance for responding to a student with a known exposure to COVID-19 which falls under the authority of the applicable  Local Public Health Authority (LPHA).

The Oregon Dept of Education has indicated it is lobbying for an option, across the state, to allow students to test out of a quarantine as of day seven of their quarantine period. This only applies to school exposures. If the positive case is in the home, the student will still be required to quarantine for 20 days without the option to test out early. 

 

Who gets to decide who is or isn't quarantined?
All school nurses should be following the guidance in the  Planning for COVID-19 Scenarios in Schools   (authored by the Oregon Department of Education and the Oregon Health Authority) with oversight from each school’s Local Public Health Authority (LPHA). In the case of NSSD, this means the Marion County Health Authority.  The Director of ODE, Colt Gill, has communicated that OHA and LPHAs, and not school districts or their boards, are the only bodies with the legal authority to set quarantine protocols. LPHAs typically use Investigative Guidelines created by OHA to determine quarantine protocols, including the length of the quarantine.

 

What is the guidance for who is required to quarantine and for how long?
It is important to remember that each situation is different and is reviewed individually to determine the proper course of action. There are some general guidelines:

  •  An exposure is defined as a susceptible individual, who is within 6 feet for longer than 15 cumulative minutes in a day with a person who has COVID-19. An exception to this guideline has been made for school classroom settings. It allows students to be only 3 apart as long as both students are properly and consistently wearing masks. The 3 feet exception doesn’t apply on school buses or during meal service.
  • A non-vaccinated student who is identified as a close contact in a school setting must quarantine for 10 days from the last exposure, unless they have a lab-confirmed positive COVID test from within the last 90 days. A vaccinated student is not required to quarantine but must monitor for symptoms. The quarantine period is different for students exposed to a positive case in their home and can extend to 20 days. 

If the guidance for students is 3 feet apart, then why are some desks still closer than that?
The OHA and ODE guidance states “maintain at least 3 feet between students to the extent possible”. In some classrooms, the square footage divided by the number of students in the room just doesn’t allow for this spacing to be possible. We will continue to monitor classrooms and desk spacing and make changes as necessary to limit the number of students who must quarantine. 

 

When will volunteers be allowed back into schools/classrooms?
Unless the vaccine mandate is lifted for school staff and volunteers, it is unlikely that non-vaccinated volunteers will be allowed back into schools soon. Vaccinated volunteers may be able to return later this school year. As much as the District values and depends on volunteers, right now the District doesn’t believe it is in the best interest of students or staff to have extra people in buildings that could increase the chances for COVID exposures which would result in more students or staff having to be quarantined. 

 

CRITICAL RACE THEORY/EQUITY WORK

What is Critical Race Theory (CRT)?
In talking with many parents and community members, it seems that CRT means something different to everyone. It is generally believed to be a reference to a broad collection of legal and academic topics originating in the mid-1970’s amongst legal scholars who were seeking to understand and address inequality and racism in the United States. It is a tool primarily used at the post-high school level to help college students think critically about the impact of historical and present-day racism. CRT is not a curriculum for K-12 students and is not included in Oregon state standards.

 

What do Oregon’s academic content standards require? 
Senate Bill 739 (2013), required the Oregon Department of Education to develop academic content standards for Oregon Studies and prepare materials to support teacher training and classroom instruction in this area. These standards focus on a balanced representation of the contribution to society by men and women of color in Oregon. The state’s current Social Studies Standards have been in place since 2018. A new set of standards is available for districts, and will replace the 2018 standards for the 2026-27 school year. The Legislature has recently added the following requirements to the social studies curriculum: Tribal and Shared History (SB 13 (2017)), Holocaust and other Genocides (SB 664 (2019)) and Ethnic Studies and Inclusive Education (HB 2845 (2017), HB 2023 (2019)).

 

How is Culturally Responsive Teaching different from Critical Race Theory?
Culturally Responsive Teaching is the ability to recognize differences based on things such as language, race, ethnicity, gender or other aspects of individual identity and to utilize and respond to those differences with productive instructional, social-emotional, and coaching practices that foster student investment in their own learning and personal growth.

 

Why is NSSD doing this “equity” work? 
Our District is committed to the work of affording every student a full academic learning experience without barriers. This commitment means that student success will not be predicted nor predetermined by any social or cultural factor. We want all of our students to have the chance to succeed; this is what is meant by “Equitable Outcomes”. Our education system and curriculum need to keep up with what students in our District are experiencing. That means teaching in an honest and inclusive way, and addressing current events to prepare young people for their future lives and careers. Above all, the goal is to bridge divides and ensure that every student feels welcome and a sense of belonging at school so they can reach their full potential.

 

But why now, especially in the midst of a pandemic?
The District has been working towards improving its outcomes among minority students for roughly 15 years. For example, to improve our high school graduation rate, we need to focus on improving the graduation rates of our sub-groups that do not graduate at the level of our total population. The No Child Left Behind law of 2002 began to show us the gaps in our student achievement; since that time an element of our work has been to focus efforts on improving outcomes for minority students. There are some requirements that make this work non-negotiable, two of which are the Student Success Act and Oregon HB4 3499.

 One can argue there is never a time when educators shouldn’t be focused on removing barriers to student success. All the challenges from the pandemic, wildfires and ice storms have certainly made things more difficult over the past year and half, and in many cases, those sub-groups have been hit the hardest.  

 

Why did the District select The Equity Collaborative firm to consult with for this work?
The District began pursuing outside entities in the summer of 2020 that could help identify potential barriers that some of our students face. Supt Gardner began seeking references from other school districts in Oregon and was given a couple of suggestions, including The Equity Collaborative. They had presented to school districts in more rural, conservative areas of the state and had been well received. The group gathers and analyzes data for school districts across the country and presents recommendations in addition to offering training to supplement the recommendations. 

 

MISC TOPICS

How often do administrators visit classrooms?
In pre-covid years, the Supt and Assoc Supt. observed teachers in their classrooms on rotating schedules nearly every week. Building administrators performed their own observations in addition to the ones done with District admin.  Prior to the shut down in March 2020, the average number of observations was approximately 2100 per school year. In the current year, this practice has been resumed. In 2020-21, administrators visited classrooms but were more focused on safety measures.

 

Who decides what books are available in school libraries? 
School librarians are trained to select books appropriate for the ages in their schools. They use a variety of industry resources to guide their selections and very often respond to student or staff requests. Parents may search each school’s library under Student Resources on school websites and scroll to find “Follett Destiny”.

 

What is the Stayton High School’s approach regarding grading homework assignments? 
Teachers gradebooks are set up with two categories:

Practice 20%: This category is for tasks designed to allow students to develop mastery and to allow teachers to informally assess progression of learning. Students will receive feedback on all work in this category.

Required Assessments 80%: Each course will have required assessments clearly spelled out on the course syllabi. In order to pass and receive credit in a course, students must complete and pass with a 60% or higher ALL of the required assessments. Students will be allowed to retake or revise required assessments, but may need to complete practice work associated with the assessment or meet with the teacher for support prior to having this opportunity. The cut off date for retakes and revisions is two weeks prior to the end of the semester. Missing work will be indicated in gradebooks with an M (missing) and will be calculated as a zero.

 

Have Oregon graduation requirements been reduced so that students no longer have to prove they can read or write?
Students still do schoolwork, take tests and get graded. They will still need three credits of math and four credits of language arts, which includes reading and writing to graduate. If they do not earn a passing grade in those classes, they will not earn a diploma. Senate Bill 744 only suspended, for a period of time, the “essential skills” portion of graduation requirements. In 2007, the state Board of Education created the essential skills requirement. The intent was to have students demonstrate proficiency in reading, writing and math. Students could show this by passing a standardized test or applying their knowledge, through projects, portfolios and other work.

Unfortunately, districts have experienced difficulty with the implementation of the portfolio option and instead have been over-relying on standardized exams (state assessments). While standardized testing does and should play a role, there should be equal opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge. This is especially important for students with disabilities or those who struggle in testing environments (“test anxiety”) Ideally, essential skills would be demonstrated as part of a portfolio of work rather than a highly structured, proctored test. 

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the tremendous obstacles families and students are facing, the Department of Education suspended the requirement for the 2019-2020, 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years. To allow for a complete and comprehensive review of all the requirements, SB 744 suspends the essential skills provision for two additional years.

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 To submit a question for consideration, please email to communications@nsantiam.k12.or.us