Summer is underway, and the Oregon Department of Education has released a new “resiliency framework” for schools this fall. In the 21-page document, the state agency doubles down on a previously-announced pledge to return to full-time in-person instruction in the fall, while making COVID-19 safety protocols like masks and physical distancing “advisory” instead of “required.”

“The path is clear for students to return to full-time, in-person instruction next year. Working together, we can harness this opportunity to rekindle joy and learning in the classrooms, auditoriums, and playgrounds across Oregon,” said ODE director Colt Gill, in a release announcing the document.

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“Oregon schools are ready to once again be vibrant places for learners, staff, and their families.”

The new document replaces “Ready Schools, Safe Learners,” ODE’s guidance for school districts in the 2020-2021 school year. The guidance changed over time, especially as Gov. Kate Brown ordered all schools to open for some in-person instruction last spring.

The new state framework signifies a goal to return to “normal” in the fall. Some schools have already signaled a similar goal even before the last school year ended, but this new guidance from the state requires instructional plans for all schools.

“For the 2021-2022 school year, schools must plan to provide full-time, in-person education for all students every school day,” according to the framework. “Districts will make decisions with their boards to determine local implementation of COVID-19 mitigation measures, as laid out in this document.”

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The state’s instructional time requirement of 265 days will be reinstated for the fall, and school districts must also submit a plan for operation for the 2021-2022 school year. Attendance rules, mainly the state’s “10-day drop rule,” which automatically removes students from attendance rolls after ten days, will be reinstated. Schools should also have plans for administering state tests, after a year when several districts opted out of state testing.

Schools will still be required to have an isolation room, as well as a plan to limit the spread of COVID-19.

But face masks, physical distancing, and keeping students in specific cohorts will no longer be required by the state, though ODE “strongly advises” the measures. Ensuring “effective ventilation” in a school by opening windows or using HEPA filters is no longer a requirement either. Those decisions are largely in the hands of local school officials for the upcoming school year.

“Moving to an advisory framework is a logical progression from emergency state direction to local decision-making for keeping students and staff healthy within each school’s unique context,” said Gill in a release, citing the several months that districts have been operating under COVID-19 protocols.

The document also covers pandemic-related concerns around student learning and mental health.

For decisions around a student moving to the next grade level or participating in extra-curricular or advanced courses, ODE said decisions should prioritize keeping students in the grade level associated with their age. At the same time, the framework says schools should provide extra educational opportunities “regardless of opportunity to access and fully participate in school during the pandemic.” ODE said those decisions should also take family and educator engagement into consideration, as well as “multiple data sources.”

ODE is requesting that districts “prioritize student and staff health and well-being” by spending time building relationships at the beginning of the school year, as well as connecting families with outside organizations or other resources.

The document goes into effect on June 30. Updated information for schools will follow, including details on COVID-19 “recovery services” no later than July 22.

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