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Fullerton IV Elementary School, shown in March after Gov. Kate Brown ordered schools shut down because of COVID-19, is one of the elementary schools in the Roseburg school district to transition back to remote learning. Roseburg Public Schools are delaying a return to the classroom for elementary students that was originally planned for Jan. 7. Gov. Brown would like to see most schools open for in-person classes by Feb. 15.

Parents of students in Roseburg Public Schools were informed Monday that elementary schools will not be opening to on-site learning on Jan. 7 as originally planned, despite the fact that COVID-19 cases are declining locally.

The school board will meet Jan. 6 to consider different scenarios for opening all grades, according to a letter from Superintendent Jared Cordon.

Gov. Kate Brown released new guidance last week that would make the health metrics advisory and not mandatory. She urged more schools to open to in-person learning, specifically elementary schools.

“The Governor’s letter raises several questions and concerns that we are working through in our efforts to return students to classrooms,” Cordon wrote to parents. “Elements that need more clarity include what new thresholds for COVID case rates will look like when the Governor releases them on January 19, as well as how rapid on-site testing may be used effectively within our schools.”

Douglas County had 128.28 cases per 100,000 people over the two-week period ending Dec. 26 and a test positivity rate of 4.33%. This would put the county schools in the Transition model for education under the current guidance.

Under the guidance, schools would be in the On-Site and Distance Learning phase — where elementary schools can reopen — when there are less than 100 cases per 100,000 people.

However, those metrics are now advisory, and schools that have offered in-person learning to students can continue to do so under the Safe Harbor Clause of the state’s guidance.

South Umpqua School District and Winston-Dillard School District announced they will be educating students on site after winter break.

“The younger grades are usually safer than the older grades, because the (elementary) grades typically have one class that they’re in,” said Douglas County Public Health Officer Bob Dannenhoffer said Friday. “When you get to junior high or high school, they’ll move multiple classes which add to the complexity of what goes on.”

Dannenhoffer said that when there’s a high rate of COVID-19 in the community it will likely show up in schools. He added that there has been no convincing evidence that there has been any transmission of the novel coronavirus in Douglas County schools.

The plan for the Roseburg school district is to continue distance learning for all students, survey parents and start limited in-person instruction on Jan. 12.

Limited in-person instruction is available to a select group of students. Students who qualify for limited in-person instruction in elementary schools will be in class Tuesdays, while qualifying middle and high school students will go to school Wednesdays.

Roseburg Public Schools’ announcement said the district is working closely with Douglas Public Health Network to determine the next steps.

Dannenhoffer reiterated Friday that decisions by local schools are made in conjunction with public health and the Oregon Department of Education, but that the final decision is made by the school board.

Sanne Godfrey can be reached at sgodfrey@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4203. Follow her on Twitter @sannegodfrey.

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