Metrics released; most students will learn from home, or have 'hybrid' classes
(Update: Bend-La Pine Schools interim superintendent comments)
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Under new COVID-19 metrics released Tuesday, students in most Oregon counties may not be able to return to their classrooms this fall, officials said.
In order for a school district to commence any form of in-person learning, the county must have 10 or fewer new cases per 100,000 residents over seven days, Gov. Kate Brown said during a news conference. In addition, the countywide and state test positivity rate must be 5% or less over the span of a week.
“Currently, in Oregon we are not where we need to be to safely reopen schools,” State Epidemiologist Dean Sidelinger said.
In the past week, case rates across Oregon were about 50 per 100,000 people, and the state’s test positivity is approaching 5%.
“Our current case rates are higher than they need to be and higher than they were in other countries that began to reopen schools,” Sidelinger said. “But, we can suppress COVID-19 and return to levels where we reopen schools.”
Following Brown’s announcement, Oregon’s largest school district, Portland Public Schools, said that it will have online classes only until at least Nov. 5.
In addition, Beaverton, Salem-Keizer, North Clackamas and Tigard-Tualatin districts also said they will be holding classes online.
Bend-La Pine Schools also "would likely not be able to reopen" for in-person classes as planned, said Interim Superintendent Lora Nordquist in an online update.
Instead, we would provide comprehensive distance learning for all students, with the possibility of some in-person instruction for students in K-3.
"We understand that this shift would cause hardships for many families," Nordquist wrote. "While our district, teachers, and staff want nothing more than our students’ full return to school, we must consider the safety and well being of all involved and follow the guidance from state education and health leaders."
"We need the help of the community," she added. "Deschutes County needs to make significant progress towards reducing COVID-19 spread in our community, before we can transition to in-person learning."
Sidelinger said at this time there is only one county -- Wheeler -- that meets the criteria for reopening school with in-person instruction, if the statewide positivity rate remains below 5%. But there are some exceptions to the state metrics.
For kindergarten through third-grade classrooms and rural school districts with fewer than 100 students — the metrics are looser.
In these cases, in-person instruction can begin if there are fewer than 30 cases per 100,000, and if COVID-19 is not actively spreading in the school. They must still have a positivity rate of 5% or less.
Based on these exceptions, 13 counties would be eligible for in-person learning — if the state positivity rate remains under 5% — Sidelinger said.
The new metrics for school reopening came as the Oregon Health Authority reported a record number of COVID-19 related deaths in a single day — 14. The previous record was nine.
Dr. Patrick Allen, the director of the Oregon Health Authority, described the increase in deaths as a “stark reminder of the work all Oregonians need to do to bring this pandemic under control.”
The total amount of confirmed and presumptive cases in the state since the start of the pandemic has surpassed 17,400. At least 303 people have died. Of the state’s total positive cases, more than 2,400 are among people younger than 20.
On Monday, hundreds of Oregon teachers held a car caravan protest in Salem, calling for no in-person classes until counties report 14 days of no new COVID-19 cases. The nation’s largest teachers union on Tuesday authorized its members to strike if their schools plan to reopen without proper virus safety measures.
Students who do return to the classroom will be required to wear masks, along with teachers and school staff. Last week, the Oregon Department of Education announced that it was allocating $5 million to distribute face masks to school districts to meet the requirement.
“Closing schools in the spring was one of the most difficult decisions I have made in the pandemic,” Brown said. “As COVID-19 continues to impact both our urban and rural communities, it’s been clear that this school year will not look like any other school year.”
Health officials said younger students get the virus at lower rates, get less sick, and spread the virus less than older students and adults. However, if cases surge, schools that have reopened will be forced to close again.
News release from Gov. Kate Brown:
Governor Kate Brown Releases School Health and Safety Metrics
Metrics set strict health and safety standards for in-person instruction, with accommodations for young learners, remote and rural schools
(PORTLAND, OR) -- Given the reality that COVID-19 will continue to impact Oregon students, schools, and communities throughout the 2020-21 school year, Gov. Kate Brown on Tuesday released new metrics to guide school district decisions about when it is safe to resume in-person instruction, and when a transition to comprehensive distance learning is necessary.
"The metrics released today will give our public schools, private schools, and communities the opportunity to make sound decisions based on the latest science and health data," Brown said at a livestreamed news conference. "They make a clear connection between the spread of the disease in a community, and statewide, and when a school may resume, or must halt, in-person instruction.
"We are taking a cautious and careful approach that protects public health, just as we have over the past five months in responding to this disease. If we don’t do this right, then the impacts of COVID-19 on students and the very functioning of our schools could deepen existing disparities in opportunity and outcomes for our children, and widen racial and socioeconomic inequality in our society."
Oregon school districts are currently developing plans for the coming school year using ODE’s Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance. The following metrics were developed by doctors and health experts at the Oregon Health Authority, working with education experts at the Oregon Department of Education and the Early Learning Division.
In-Person Instruction or Hybrid Instruction Model: All Grade Levels and School Districts
In order to resume in-person instruction in any form, including hybrid instruction models when students are only sometimes in the classroom, the following conditions must be met:
County Metrics (Must be Met Three Weeks in a Row)
- 10 or fewer cases per 100,000 people over 7 days
- Test positivity of 5% or less over 7 days
Statewide Metrics (Must be Met Three Weeks in a Row)
- Test positivity of 5% or less over 7 days
In-Person Instruction or Hybrid Instruction Model: K-3 Students and Remote and Rural School Districts
Under some conditions, in-person instruction can resume only for K-3 students and remote and rural school districts with fewer than 100 students.
Younger students get the virus at lower rates, get less sick, and spread the virus less than older students and adults, Brown and health officials said. Younger students also need more in-person instruction to build the literacy and math skills critical for lifelong learning.
Schools in remote and rural communities are less likely to contribute to the community spread of COVID-19 cases that cannot be traced and contained.
The following conditions must be met for in-person instruction for K-3 students or for remote and rural students:
- Fewer than 30 cases per 100,000 over 7 days
- Test positivity of 5% or less over 7 days
- COVID-19 is not actively spreading in the school community
- School districts are in compliance with sections 1-3 of Ready Schools, Safe Learners Guidance
Transition Planning for Comprehensive Distance Learning
For school districts where in-person instruction is occurring during the school year, planning for a switch to comprehensive distance learning should take place, including training for staff and notification of the community, if one or both conditions are met:
- 20 cases or greater per 100,000 over 7 days
- Test positivity of 7.5% or greater over 7 days
Comprehensive Distance Learning
All school districts must implement comprehensive distance learning if the following conditions are met:
- 30 or more cases per 100,000 over 7 days
- Test positivity of 10% or greater over 7 days
Based on these metrics, with the increasing spread of COVID-19 in both rural and urban Oregon this summer, many, if not most, Oregon students live in school districts that will begin school in the fall by focusing on online distance learning or will have a hybrid model that combines remote online education and in-person classroom time.
Districts across the state have been developing plans to provide high quality education to all students, including students of color, low-income students, students experiencing disabilities, and rural students––all students who were disproportionately impacted by the institution of comprehensive distance education last spring.
With more time for school districts to develop a planned response to COVID-19 for the coming school year, Oregon schools will be expected to work to address the diverse needs of students and their families and provide the best possible education for every Oregon student.
A recording of the governor’s press conference is available here.
A full transcript of the governor’s remarks is available here.
Updated guidance will be posted to coronavirus.oregon.gov.