Some Douglas County schools have a little more flexibility when it comes to reopening to in-person learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to guidance released by the Oregon Department of Education on Tuesday.
State officials also said English language learners and special education students must be prioritized for in-person learning, along with kindergarten through third graders and those enrolled in career technical education classes.
Douglas County schools that are remote and rural and have an enrollment of 250 or less students can reopen if the case rate in the county is at or below 30 per 100,000 people in the preceding 7 days for the past three weeks and the test positivity in the county is at or below 5% during that same time. Schools also need to comply with all other sections of the guidance and no confirmed coronavirus cases can be tied to students or staff for 14 days.
Days Creek Superintendent Steve Woods said, “We are doing what we can to begin a rolling start beginning with Kindergarten August 24th.” He added that the district is firming up the details and combing through the latest guidance.
About eight hours later, after reading through the latest update, he said that Aug. 24 might be pushing it under the latest guidance, but hoped to get more clarification from the state.
Remote rural schools are located more than 8 miles from any public school that serves the same grade levels. This likely includes Days Creek, Camas Valley, Elkton, Glendale, Glide and Milo Adventist Academy.
“We all have a part to play,” the guidance reads. “Opening schools to in-person instruction is not a one-way journey, if cases increase in local communities, schools may need to move back to Comprehensive Distance Learning to mitigate further spread.”
For schools that do not fall under remote and rural schools, reopening can start for all grade levels once the state and county test positivity are at or below 5% and there are no more than 10 cases per 100,000 people — which in Douglas County is 10. There are exceptions for kindergarten through third grade and specific groups in the guidance.
All schools will need to submit plans Monday on how they will continue to educate students. The guidance is expected to be updated late fall, after school has started.
“The revised guidance gives rural and remote schools more flexibility to offer in-person instruction,” the ODE press release said. “The new metrics require close partnerships between school districts and local public health authorities to oversee a return to in-person opportunities in schools required to operate through Comprehensive Distance Learning. Our priority is to return to in-person instruction as soon as it can be accomplished with stability and safety.”
The guidance included additional documentation: “Planning for COVID-19 Scenarios in Schools,” “Ensuring Equity & Access: Aligning Federal and State Requirements,” and “Comprehensive Distance Learning guidance.”
Kindergarten through third graders, students who do not speak English as a first language, those in special education programs and career technical education students can return to school once the count test positivity rate is at or below 5% and there are no more than 30 cases per 100,000 people in the preceding 7 days for the past three weeks — which is 32 in Douglas County— and there are no confirmed COVID-19 cases among school staff and students in the past 14 days.
Each district will have to decide which student groups qualify to return to in-person learning and are not required to offer in-person learning. State officials will continue to closely monitor the health data and may provide updates based on what they learn from the metrics in Oregon as well as other states and countries.
The guidance points out that COVID-19 has highlighted inequities in Oregon with people of color disproportionately impacted and some students unable to participate in school because they were unable to get online. Younger students and those with disabilities also have more difficulty participating via the internet, according to Oregon officials.