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COVID-19 spike halts Bend-La Pine K-3 class return; Crook County 4-12 back next week

Deschutes County COVID cases 928
Deschutes County Health Services
Deschutes County saw its COVID-19 cases jump last week to the highest total since early August.

(Update: Crook County plans to return students in grades 4-12 Oct. 5)

 BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The recent spike in Deschutes County COVID-19 cases has pushed back next week's planned return of Bend-La Pine Schools kindergarten through third-graders to in-person learning by at least three weeks, officials confirmed Monday.

However, Crook County's older students in grades 4-12 will return as planned next week, thanks to a recent change in state requirements, the district said Monday.

"I am writing to share disheartening news," Bend-La Pine Interim Superintendent Lora Nordquist said in an email to families late Monday afternoon.

"Due to a spike in COVID-19 cases within Deschutes County this past week, we will be unable to provide in-person learning for K-3 students on the timeline we had planned."

Nordquist continued, "We have been tracking Oregon Health Authority’s daily case reports for Deschutes County, unfortunately, it appears as if Deschutes County has not met the metric guidelines for K-3 return to in-person learning."

"The clock, in a word, has reset, and we must now start at the beginning and meet the health metric guidelines for three straight week," she added.

Deschutes County saw its COVID-19 positive test rates climb to 70 last week, a sizable increase from the 46 seen the prior week and the largest weekly number since early August. Add in the Crook and Jefferson county totals, and Central Oregon saw its cases rise from 72 to 95 last week.

The school district is required by the Oregon Department of Education and Gov. Kate Brown to meet the county metrics for three consecutive weeks prior to opening for in-person learning for K-3 students.

"This means the earliest we could potentially begin the transition to hybrid/balanced learning for K-3 is Oct. 26," Nordquist wrote. "We remain committed to reopening for in-person learning as soon as the metrics allow us to do so."

Due to the changing circumstances, the school district also postponed the public town hall presentations slated for Monday night at which it planned to lay out the details and answer questions about the hybrid/balanced learning model. Nordquist said they will be rescheduled as the district gets closer to bringing students back for in-person instruction.

"Thank you for your continued partnership as we continue to navigate these challenging times," Nordquist told the families. "This is not what anyone wanted for this year. Please know I am thinking about you and your families every day."

The Redmond School District, meanwhile, said it was waiting for official weekly numbers from the Oregon Health Authority before deciding on its future path.

The Sisters School District brought back K-3 students for part-time in-person classes on Monday, but the new numbers could affect their plans as well.

The Crook County School District issued this news release late Monday:

Crook County Students in Grades 4-12 Return to Class October 5th

Crook County School District declares hybrid model to Oregon Department of Education

Suspension of the state’s test positivity rate last week due to recent wildfires was a gift to the Crook County School District. Students in grades 4-12 will now begin returning to class on Monday, October 5th after Crook County met the required Covid-19 metrics over the weekend.

Under the Oregon Department of Education’s requirements, Crook County could only have two cases per week for three weeks in a row. That requirement was met on Saturday when the Oregon Health Authority released its report for last week.

Superintendent Dr. Sara Johnson will now send a letter to the Oregon Department of Education declaring the school district’s transition to a hybrid model.

“It’s the understatement of the century to say we’re thrilled to welcome the rest of our students back to the classrooms. Students learn best when they interact face-to-face with teachers and other students, and I know our parents are ready for schools to reopen,” said Dr. Johnson.

The plan is to bring 4th- and 5th-grade students back full-time next week. Students at Crook County Middle School and Crook County High School will begin in a hybrid model with a rotating schedule because of space limitations and social-distancing protocols required by the state. Each school will be communicating specific schedules with families this week. 

“It’s important that we take a week and make sure we have everything ready to go," Rd. Johnson said. "We’ll be communicating consistently with parents all week about what to expect as we know they’ll be wondering about bus routes, daily schedules, safety for students, and have other questions.”

Crook County School District has successfully served over 650 students in several schools since the beginning of September. District leaders say they’re constantly reviewing Covid-19 guidelines and working closely with the Crook County Health Department to ensure safety in the buildings.

The return to in-person instruction for grades 4-12 will not impact those families enrolled in the Crook County Online Option or Homeschool Partner Program. These are programs available to families who prefer their children continue learning from home because of health concerns.

The school district will provide additional details about reopening plans on Tuesday.

Article Topic Follows: Coronavirus

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