Oregon School District students will be returning to classrooms five days a week this fall, with the theme of “Back Together 2021-22.”

Still, remnants of the previous school year and the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic had on it will be evident.

The last time students were in school five days a week was in March 2020. Now, as students returned full-time on Wednesday, Sept. 1, they and their teachers will need to wear masks regardless of vaccination status. And yet, disruptions to education are still possible, particularly if there is an outbreak within the elementary school grades, where most students are not vaccinated.

1. COVID-19 mitigation strategies

Masks might as well be located in the school supply section of stores this year along with the colorful array of notebooks, binders and pencils.

OSD, as well as many of the other Dane County school districts, will require universal masking for all students and staff for the start of the year, regardless of vaccination status. Part of what drove that decision for many of Dane County’s public school districts is a requirement they’d need to follow if administrators didn’t opt for universal masking – if masking is optional, students are required to be quarantined if they’re considered a close contact to someone who tests positive; if masks are universal, then quarantining is not mandated by Public Health Madison and Dane County.

2. Expecting the unexpected

School might look a little bit closer to normal than last year, but parents should still anticipate being flexible over illness-related closures of classrooms or schools.

While the district’s mask mandate and mitigation strategies are meant to keep students attending school in-person, the progression of the COVID-19 pandemic and the emergence of variants that studies have found to be more contagious might still result in disruption. This could especially be the case at the elementary school level, where only the very oldest fifth graders who would have had to start kindergarten a year after eligibility could be inoculated against COVID-19.

3. New ‘Blended learning hub’ at OHS

Later this fall, Oregon High School will open a new “blended learning hub” – a space roughly equivalent to three classrooms, said principal Jim Pliner.

“We will have many students this year that are engaging in online learning in a blended fashion, so they’ll be doing online content with the support of live teachers in this space,” he told the Observer last week. “It gives us the ability to be more adaptable and concentrate on supporting students’ needs and to meet the academic rigor that a lot of our students are looking for.”

4. School forest expansion at Forest Edge

When OSD teachers want students of all grades to experience the variety of nature in forests and prairies, they won’t have to travel far.

Last summer, the district purchased three parcels of land adjacent to Forest Edge Elementary School in Fitchburg. The first two – 20.4 acres adjacent to the school – are being developed as a school forest. The other 1.7 acres includes an existing residence that will eventually be converted into an environmental learning station.

5. ‘Portrait of a Graduate’

What should a graduate of Oregon High School know and understand before receiving a diploma? The district will spend time this year trying to answer that question.

The Oregon School District will work with the community to come up with new graduation requirements later this school year to better define expectations for the district’s oldest students. In a video message on the district website, superintendent Leslie Bergstrom said the district is looking to define the “characteristics, attributes and skills we want our students to possess by the time they graduate from Oregon High School.”

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