Despite two straight days of record high reported COVID-19 cases, the State of Oregon and Oregon Department of Education (ODE) has adjusted their reopening schools metrics, which will allow some students to return back to the classroom.

In-Person Instruction

Local school districts are now reviewing what the easing of the metric guidelines means and when they might resume in-person instruction.

The new metrics are based on the latest COVID-19 studies and data by the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), align to CDC recommendations, are in line with standards in other states like California and help Oregon meet its priority to return students to in-person instruction.

“Over the course of just a few months, life has transformed,” Gov. Kate Brown said in press conference Oct. 30. “From the very first case of COVID-19 in Oregon, I have continued to use science to guide my decision making. My top priority has been and will always be the health and safety of Oregonians.”

Since Oregon’s metrics were originally issued in August, more data has become available from school districts across the country. ODE worked with the Oregon Health Authority to establish when students can return to the classroom while still mitigating the risk of COVID-19 spread.

“What we as a country have learned, is that essentially, it is impossible to work from home and teach your children a full day’s worth of school at the same time,” Brown said.

A key lesson from the review of national school data is that Oregon school districts can help protect student and staff health and well-being during in-person instruction when community spread is sufficiently low and when school districts strictly adhere to the health and safety protocols now in place in Oregon.

“Guided by data, these metrics offer an intentional and measured approach to returning to in-person instruction while recognizing the importance of meeting our kids’ academic needs—and allow for in-person instruction in places of our state where the risk of COVID-19 is lower," ODE Director Colt Gill said. "They also set a North Star for the rest of the state to work toward. We all know that in-person instruction provides our children and families with more than access to an equitable education. Schools are a center of services to students and families, offering nutritious meals, access to social-emotional and mental health supports, as well as physical health services.”

Key changes to the metrics include:

  • A clear set of reachable targets for communities to strive for, with a North Star of returning Oregon students to in-person instruction.
  • Acknowledgement that Oregon’s Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance’s strong public health protocols in structured settings like schools, can greatly reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19.
  • Additional time for schools to transition between in-person and distance learning models.
  • Increased access to in-person instruction at the elementary level.
  • A two Week “Look Back” at the Metrics Data rather than one week at a time over a three week period.
  • Removes State Positivity Rate in favor of county positivity rates.

“These metrics depend on the public doing its part to reduce Oregon’s case rates so that all of our children can return to in-person instruction,” Gill said. “Oregonians can reduce spread and send our kids back to school by wearing a face covering, maintaining distance, washing hands frequently, and avoiding group gatherings.”

Brown reiterated that the vast majority of students will not be able to return to class, even under these new metrics. However, an estimated 130,000 students will potentially be able to return to in person instruction.

“We are making adjustments to the metrics based on our best judgements of science, they are not radical shifts,” Brown said.

Gill stated that when safety guidelines are followed in schools, schools are not super spreader sites, based on their data. In fact, Gill said they oftentimes are helpful in identifying individuals who may be sick.

“The fact is, many of our students do far better with in person instruction, especially our youngest learners, who are beginning to build there basic skills and learning to read,” Gill said.

ODE and OHA were among the very first states to create metrics for returning to in-person instruction in early August. At that time they were based in large part on successes seen in other countries, as school was not in session in the U.S. Later, exceptions were added to make a return to in-person instruction possible for more students, where there was lower risk of COVID-19 transmission.

As the state learns more about the progression of COVID-19 in Oregon, the effectiveness of future vaccines and other mitigation efforts, and gain more information about the transmission of COVID-19 in structured settings like schools, ODE and OHA are committed to reviewing the metrics again in the coming weeks.

The metric updates take effect immediately. The guidance recommends that schools consider both equity and a methodical and cautious approach at the beginning that return a portion of the school population first and then add more students on-site over time. This will allow schools to build new safety routines, stabilize cohorts and avoid sudden, disruptive transitions back to Comprehensive Distance Learning due to quarantine or isolation.

“We must stay vigilant in our efforts to continue stopping the spread of COVID as we work towards reopening more schools,” Brown said. “I know we are all sick of hearing it, but that means we have to continue with more effort than ever before. The hand washing, staying home when sick, mask wearing, getting a flu shot and avoiding gatherings.”

Cases in Oregon

OHA reported a record high 600 new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases Oct. 30, the highest one-day count since the pandemic swept across the state in March.

The OHA also released its newest modeling that includes three scenarios.

The first scenario assumes that if transmission continues at its current level into late November, new daily cases would increase from around 340 to 380 and new daily hospitalizations would number reach about 22.

The more pessimistic scenario assumes a 5-percentage point increase in transmission, which if happens, would drive daily cases upward to about 520, with a steep increase in people who are hospitalized daily due to the virus. This would indicate vastly accelerated spread. The final and most optimistic scenario model assumes a drop in transmission to mid-August levels. That would result in 230 reported cases and a steep drop in daily hospitalizations due to COVID. This would signal considerably slower community spread.

“Oregonians have made huge sacrifices along the way and I’ve been humbled and impressed by all of you," Brown said. "Seven months later, we have learned a lot. One thing that is abundantly clear is that COVID is here to stay for the foreseeable future."

Brown urged Oregonians to take a step back and reflect on what they can do to limit the spread of the virus. She noted the state will continue focusing on increasing testing, contact tracing and launching a new educational campaign regarding social gatherings.

“Oregon’s cases are rising, much like the rest of the country, and frankly, cases around the globe,” Brown said. “The second wave that we’ve all been afraid of is here.”

The Chief has reached out to local school district administrators to find out if and when they might qualify to resume in-person instruction.

Clatskanie School District Superintendent Cathy Hurowitz said that her district is now taking steps to resume limited in-person classes.

"Columbia County qualifies for K-3 return," she said." We are in the planning stages to gradually bring students back."

Hurowitz has sent the following letter to district families.

"Dear Clatskanie School District Families,

Today, Governor Kate Brown, in collaboration with the Oregon Health Authority and the Department of Education announced new metrics for reopening K-12 schools. In addition, the Oregon Department of Education has released an updated version of the Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance.

Since Oregon’s metrics were originally issued in August, more data has become available from school districts across the country. ODE worked with the Oregon Health Authority to establish when students can return to the classroom while still mitigating the risk of COVID-19 spread.

According to the ODE press release, key changes to the metrics include:

A clear set of reachable targets for communities to strive for, with a goal of returning Oregon students to in-person instruction.

Acknowledgment that Oregon’s Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance’s strong public health protocols in structured settings like schools can greatly reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19.

Additional time for schools to transition between in-person and distance learning models.

Increased access to in-person instruction at the elementary level (K-6.)

A two week “Look Back” at the Metrics Data rather than one week at a time over a three-week period.

Removes State Positivity Rate in favor of county positivity rates.

These metrics depend on the public doing its part to reduce Oregon’s case rates so that all of our children can return to in-person instruction,” Director Colt Gill said. “Oregonians can reduce spread and send our kids back to school by wearing a face covering, maintaining distance, washing hands frequently, and avoiding group gatherings.”

District and School teams will review the new information and determine our next steps. Both CES and CMHS have plans in the works for students to return. As we move forward we will keep the lines of communication open through Blackboard, email, ZOOM meetings, and social media.

Our goal is to bring students back into our buildings for in-person instruction as soon as it is safe to do so. We will work closely with our county public health to ensure that our students, staff, and community are safe given the new metrics.

Thank you for your patience as we navigate these uncharted waters. As always, if you have any questions or concerns do not hesitate to contact me or your building principal."

Rainier Interim Superintendent Joseph Hattrick said a decision is pending.

"It’s difficult to determine just yet," he said. "Although the new guidelines have been released we are waiting on the metrics, which are not currently available, in order to understand where we are at."

The Chief will update this story as additional details become available.

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