Gresham eyes 4-day school week with Wednesday break

Surveys to garner public input, safety measures being set in classrooms
Items sit in the hallway outside the library at Gresham Community School on Tuesday. Everything will be cleaned up in time for school in September, which will be four days a week for Gresham students.

Lee Pulaski | NEW MediaClassroom rearranging has begun at Gresham Community School, and teachers are tasked with setting up their classrooms with physical distancing in mind. According to Superintendent Newell Haffner, a lot of the extra things like bean bag chairs in the elementary classrooms will likely have to go this year to accommodate the same number of students in the space.

Lee Pulaski | NEW Media
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

The Gresham School District is planning to have students in the classroom four days out of the week, closing Wednesdays for deep cleaning.

Whether that plan goes into effect will depend on the results of a survey being sent out this week and the decision of the Gresham School Board later in August. Superintendent Newell Haffner hopes the proposed reopening plan will be an acceptable compromise between those who believe schools should be open five days per week and those who believe it’s too risky to open until the coronavirus is under control.

“Everybody wants the kids back — the teachers do, the parents do. Everybody does,” Haffner said. “Right now, COVID levels are rising, so I was telling the staff that I don’t know how we make this a win-win situation.”

There is a virtual option for those families still uncomfortable letting the children out of the house during the pandemic, according to Haffner.

Air purifiers have been set up with the ventilation system for two-thirds of the building, which includes the new expansion. Portable purifiers are being set up in the remaining classrooms, according to Haffner. There are also ozone units and sprayers to clean the classrooms daily and especially during the big cleaning day on Wednesdays.

Masks will be required, per the executive order of Gov. Tony Evers, but the district is planning to require them even after the order expires Sept. 28.

“We’re trying to limit as much risk as we can,” Haffner said, adding that the school board “was going to vote the masks in anyway before Tony Evers stepped in.”

Busing is one of the unknown factors. Haffner said that planning for buses will come into focus once the district knows for sure how many students will opt to attend in person.

“I’m sure I’ll have parents that will want to drive their own kids here, and that will help with the busing situation,” Haffner said, noting that the survey will ask parents what their plans are for transportation.

Physical distancing measures are being put into place, and Haffner has told his staff that minimum decor will be in the classrooms as a result. He noted that study carrels will be placed on each desk.

“I told them there’s going to be no fluff in the rooms this year, and one of the teachers said, ‘Well, it’s going to look like a prison,’” Haffner said. “I said, ‘Yes, it is, but it’s only going to be for four months, five months until they get it under control or we get a vaccine.’”

Currently, assemblies and field trips will not be happening in order to prevent large group gatherings. Visitation by parents and other community members will be very limited to prevent any potential outside illness from getting in.

“I can’t control what comes through the door. That’s what I can’t control,” Haffner said. “I think we’ve got a pretty good handle on what’s inside the building.”

The school could possibly go back to five days per week if the number of positive coronavirus cases drops significantly. However, the district could go completely virtual if the number of cases intensifies, according to Haffner.

“If we have 30 more kids in the Gresham School District (test positive), we’re not going to be open. We’re going to be virtual,” Haffner said. “Whatever we put out may change in a week or two with the way COVID is going.”

Haffner is surprised that some parents are upset with the proposed plan, noting that “the science” would probably require that Gresham start the year with all virtual learning. With the current proposal, students can return to school four out of five days, he said.

“I’m amazed at the people that are mad because we’re trying to keep people safe,” Haffner said. “That’s the part that just blows my mind.”

Haffner estimated that the plan would work for the first semester, but a review and potential alterations would be necessary before the second semester if circumstances beforehand don’t already force changes.

“I don’t envision everything sticking the whole year because I’m an optimist,” Haffner said. “I think a vaccine will happen. I think the majority of people will use it, and then we can get back to a somewhat normal life.”