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State extends ‘Safe Harbor,’ meaning Crook County can resume in-person classes

Crook County schools Stay Safe Stay Open

'Thrilled' superintendent cheers 'early Christmas gift to our families'

PRINEVILLE, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Rising COVID-19 cases in Crook County appeared to dash all hopes of students returning to classrooms after Winter Break. That changed Wednesday after the Oregon Department of Education announced the extension of the Safe Harbor designation.

The good news for Crook County (and Sisters schools as well) comes after Crook County schools returned to remote learning this week, largely due to staffing issues amid quarantined staff and substitutes.

“We are thrilled with this decision, and thankful the ODE has recognized that our schools have been a safe place for students and staff," said Superintendent Dr. Sara Johnson. "Parents have already reached out this week pleading with us to reopen, so this is truly an early Christmas gift to our families,”

The Safe Harbor extension allows Crook County School District to continue with in-person and hybrid models on Monday, Jan. 4. K-5 students will return to the classroom full-time, while middle and high school students will continue with the Blue/Gold rotating schedule. The Hybrid Learning Campus at Pioneer will also stay with their existing hybrid schedule. 

The school district is still required to collaborate with the Crook County Health Department when determining if staying open is safe for students and staff. So far this year, it noted, no cases of COVID-19 have originated or spread inside the schools because of the district’s safety measures, such as wearing masks.

ODE and the Oregon Health Authority said in a statement Wednesday that school districts already open have not experienced transmission of the virus, and that was part of the reason for the extension. 

"Crook County has left no stone unturned in the search to keep our schools open," school board Chair Scott Cooper said. "We know that quality education is just as much as about socialization as it is instruction. We also know that, for reasons not entirely understood, schools do not seem to be super-spreaders of COVID. The action to extend ‘Safe Harbor’ is sound policy, sound instructional strategy and sound science. I am proud of staff's advocacy for kids and community."

The school district continues to receive calls from community members interested in becoming substitute teachers. As of this week, about 45 people have reached out about the process. This should increase the local substitute pool and help prevent a future closure of schools due to a staffing shortage, the district said.

Johnson added, “Crook County citizens are a resilient and committed group of people, and their support of our local school district is simply amazing. The community spirit and can-do attitude here is incredible, and I’m thankful for the support of our teachers, staff, and school board as well.”

"Crook County School District values flexibility and choice," the district said in a news release. "If families are concerned about having their children return to school after Winter Break, there are two online options available."

Oregon Dept. of Education's 'Safe Harbor' clause update:

Date:      December 16, 2020
To:         Superintendents, Principals, Public Charter School Leaders, and
               Private School Leaders
From:    Colt Gill, Director of the Oregon Department of Education
RE:        Continuation of Ready Schools, Safe Learners Section 0c.1.
              Operating In-Person Instruction Under Previous Metrics

The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and Oregon Department of Education (ODE) are extending provisions of the Ready Schools, Safe Learners Guidance related to the “Safe Harbor Clause."

The in-health metrics for returning to in-person instruction ODE released on October 30 offered a Safe Harbor Clause that allows schools that were implementing the On-Site or Hybrid Instructional Model in compliance with the previous metrics to continue operating in-person instruction under these new metrics. Schools located in counties in “Distance Learning” column of Ready Schools, Safe Learners Guidance Section 0b. General Metrics were initially provided the option to continue to implement in-person instruction.  That safe harbor allowance was initially set to end on January4th pending review by OHA and ODE. This would have meant that schools who have been operating under these prior exceptions would need to move to Distance Learning the week of January 4th to align to the new metrics.

Schools in Oregon that have continued operating in counties with case rates/counts or test positivity, in the “Distance Learning” (red column) have generally not experienced transmission at the school site. Adherence to public health protocols in Ready Schools, Safe Learners Guidance Sections 1-3 appear to be effective in reducing the risk of spread. These protocols include entry screening and exclusion practices, maintaining small cohorts, wearing face coverings at all times, maintaining physical distancing, implementing hand washing routines, readiness to respond to exposure, and more.

Schools in Oregon are seeing COVID-19 cases introduced to schools. When appropriate actions are immediately implemented, the introduction of a case into a school setting does not lead to transmission to others in the school.

The risk of cases being introduced to schools is higher in counties with high case rates/counts and high test positivity. Risk of spread of the disease in the school environment can be mitigated. As local public health authorities capacity is stretched in counties with high case rates/counts, it is imperative that schools are maintaining accurate contact logs and are ready to support quarantine and isolation requirements. It is important to implement the exclusion guidance to reduce spread. Interruptions to in-person instruction to quarantine after an exposure are necessary. These interruptions are disruptive to learning and should be considered as schools coordinate with staff and community through the equity decision tool to determine the best instructional model for their situation.

Within the next 10 days the Ready Schools, Safe Learners Guidance will be updated to reflect the conditions in which Safe Harbor may continue in schools that have previously implemented this clause. The guidance will reflect these changes:

0c. Operating within the General Metrics

  1. Operating In-Person Instruction under Previous Metrics - “Safe Harbor Clause” as schools transition to updated metrics: Any school operating with in-person instruction in compliance with previous metrics, including under any prior exceptions, released by ODE and OHA may continue to operate in-person.
  • If the school is located in a county with current metrics in the “On-Site” or “On-Site and Distance Learning” columns of the metrics chart (above), they may continue operating in-person.
  • If the school is located in a county with current metrics in the “Transition” column of the metrics chart (above), then school officials should discuss with their local public health authority (LPHA) and consider the spread of COVID-19 within schools and the local community in deciding whether to return to Comprehensive Distance Learning (CDL).
  • Unless operating under an exception in section 0d (below), if the school is located in a county with metrics in the “Distance Learning” column of the metrics chart (above), then the school must transition to distance learning if: 
    • The school experiences unrelated individual cases in two or more separate cohorts without a known source of exposure;
    • The school experiences two or more clusters (2 or more confirmed cases) with onset within 14 days of one another;
    • The school is unable to maintain staff capacity to adequately serve students or maintain compliance with Sections 1-8 of the guidance (Sections 1-3 for private schools); or
    • The school is found to be out-of-compliance with Sections 1-3 of this guidance.

The Ready Schools, Safe Learners Guidance will also reflect other minor updates, including alignment to the CDC’s new quarantine period recommendations. The ongoing review and updates to Ready Schools, Safe Learners Guidance will continue as we enter 2021.

Governor Brown has directed ODE and OHA to continue to develop and evaluate strategies and practices necessary to mitigate risk and return more of Oregon’s students to in-person instruction, including greater access to COVID-19 testing, resources to reduce the risk of transmission at school, addressing equity in access to instruction, and the application of metrics. 

Thank you for your continued leadership, and please use the ODE COVID-19 inbox for additional questions.

Article Topic Follows: Coronavirus

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