School districts in Columbia County are preparing in-person classroom instruction plans, but those plans will not be put into place as soon as district officials had hoped.
Originally, schools in Columbia County and across the state had hoped to resume in-person instruction by November.
Some Oregon school districts have been able to allow limited classes in the schools along with distance learning, however, the in-person classes are based on the state’s pandemic metrics.
In order to reopen schools, there are two metrics that must be met, according to Oregon Health Authority (OHA) guidelines: a test positivity rate of less than 5%, and a case count of less than 10 per 100,000. Both metrics must be met for three weeks in a row in order to reopen schools.
Columbia County has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases over the past few weeks, and is not currently meeting the required state metrics to return to in-person instruction, according to Columbia County Public Health.
Rainier interim School District Superintendent Joseph Hattrick said the district reviews the state metrics provided by Oregon Department of Education (ODE) and OHA weekly. He said Columbia County still remains above the case rate necessary for in-person instruction.
The Rainier School District is working with Columbia County Public Health and OHA to obtain data that may support limited in-person instruction (small group instruction) but Hattrick said until that specific data is made available, district officials are unable to make an informed decision on allowing small groups on campus.
Rainier Schools reaction
On Sept. 21, Rainier School District began the school year in Comprehensive Distance Learning (CDL). Students have been provided one of three options which include: Google Classroom, Rainier Virtual Academy supported by Odysseyware, or paper-based learning.
“We understand the challenges associated with all methods of CDL and provide a daily help desk, teacher office hours, and both tutoring and help desk for our special education students,“ Hattrick said.
According to Hattrick, the Rainier School District understands that CDL is not the preferred method of teaching and learning in the community but he said the district is required to follow state guidelines and will continue to do so.
“I would love nothing more to have students back on campus but we also have to make these moves slowly and in accordance with the data so everyone can remain safe,” Hattrick said. “Once we are able to have students on campus, we want them to stay. This means that moving too quickly could result in transitioning back and forth from in-person to CDL which would not provide the stability our students need.”
Hattrick said under the current metrics, Columbia County would have to have decreased cases for the next three weeks in order to consider beginning in-person instruction.
“At this time, we cannot make a prediction as to when this could happen because we are bound by what the data tells us and will continue to follow guidance provided by ODE,” he said. “While CDL is not ideal, our students have higher attendance rates than last year, better engagement, and they are met with consistent expectations and requirements in their classes.”
Hattrick noted that students have the flexibility to view instructional lessons on their own time and participate in live virtual sessions daily with their teachers and peers.
Clatskanie School District Superintendent Kathy Hurowitz stated in a story in the Oct. 16 edition of The Chief, that the end of the semester in January would be a possible time to transition back to in-person learning if Columbia County’s COVID-19 case metrics support it.
“It has always been our plan to return to in-person instruction as soon as allowed,” Hurowitz said. “We are in the prepping stages for bringing back students beginning with K-3 as soon as the metrics allow.”
Other county schools
Scappose School District Superintendent Tim Porter sent a letter to parents this week suggesting that his district will likely not resume in-person instruction until January.
“Our ability to fully open classrooms is dependent on health metrics in Columbia, Washington, and Multnomah Counties specifically, which in turn are dependent on our community following good practices, including the wearing of face coverings, Porter said. “We are likely months away from re-opening our school buildings in a broad manner, even for a hybrid/cohort model of learning.”
St. Helens School District officials were still developing their in-person instruction procedures at press time. The Chief also reached out to the Vernonia School District about its plans for in-person instruction and have not received a response.
Follow this developing story online at thechiefnews.com and in the Friday print editions of The Chief.