PORTLAND, Ore. — As COVID-19 continues to spread across Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown on Tuesday announced new metrics that will dictate whether the state’s school districts can safely welcome students back into the classroom this fall.
Based on the metrics, many – if not most – Oregon students live in school districts that will begin the school year with online distance learning or a hybrid model that includes both online and in-person classroom learning, according to Gov. Brown’s office.
“It’s been clear that this school year will not look like any other school year,” Brown said. “We need to be cautious so that schools don’t become places where the virus spreads.”
In order to resume any in-person learning, even part-time, a county needs to have less than 10 cases per 100,000 people for three weeks straight, with some exceptions for certain very small rural school districts.
“Today in Oregon we are not where we need to be to safely reopen schools," said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state epidemiologist.
Based on Multnomah County’s population of 812,855 people, the county would need to see a rate of 81 cases per week to meet this threshold. Last week the county had 453 new cases.
The COVID-19 positivity rate must also be under 5% in the county and the state for three weeks before students can return to in-person classes. The Oregon Health Authority on Monday reported the state’s positivity rate last week was 4.8%, the first time in a month the state’s weekly positive test rate was below 5%.
Where in-person classes have resumed, each district must start planning for a transition to comprehensive distance learning in the case of 20 or more COVID-19 cases per 100,000 for seven days or a test positivity of 7.5% or greater for seven days.
School districts must fully transition to fully remote classes if they see 30 or more cases per 100,000 for seven days or a positivity rate of 10% or greater for seven days
If students return to the classroom this fall, they will be required to wear masks, along with teachers and school staff. The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) made the announcement last week and said it will distribute 5 million face masks to school districts to make the requirement happen.
Students will be screened for symptoms daily, including temperature checks on school buses, according to ODE Colt Gill.
The Oregon Health Authority (OHA), Early Learning Division and ODE developed the metrics based on COVID-19 case numbers and positive test rates at both the county and state levels.
Here’s a look at the full list of metrics the governor released on Tuesday:
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. 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 7days
- 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 or greater cases 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
Brown stressed the importance of providing in-person learning to Oregon's youngest students and said it was critical to their long-term success.
“There’s a lot of students who are going to struggle with online learning," Brown said. "It’s very difficult to teach a child to read online."
School districts across Oregon have been developing their own plans to teach all students, including many who were disproportionately impacted by online learning last spring. The Oregon Department of Education provided some guidance with a broad Operational Blueprint for Reentry released on June 10 and updated on June 30.
Brown said the plan each school district adopts will be a local decision.
“I am absolutely unwilling to lose an entire school year for any of our kids,” Brown said. “I will demand nothing but excellence from our districts and our educators.”
The 2019-20 school year ended with three months of online distance learning after the coronavirus pandemic grew and forced a statewide stay-home order.
Meanwhile, thousands of Oregon teachers are calling for no in-person classes until counties report 14 days of no new COVID-19 cases. The Facebook group “Oregon for a Safe Return to Campus” organized a car caravan protest in Salem on Monday.
INTERACTIVE: Oregon coronavirus map