Schools that are still open to in-person instruction can remain open for the rest of the school year, as long as COVID-19 cases among students and staff remain low, state officials announced Wednesday.
Previously the directives had stated that schools must transition to distance learning during the week of Jan. 4. However, the updated guidance will remove any mention of a date the Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Department of Education announced.
“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,” said Colt Gill, director of the Oregon Department of Education. Gill said the state guidance on safety measures has been effective in reducing the risk of spread.
The Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance will be updated within the next 10 days to reflect the new conditions of the Safe Harbor Clause.
While there have been outbreaks at schools, which at a school means one person testing positive, there has been limited or no transmission to others.
Gill added that schools should remain vigilant in following protocols and working with local health authorities.
Winston-Dillard School District is the largest school district still holding in-person classes in Douglas County, but several smaller schools including Camas Valley, Riddle, Glide, Umpqua Valley Christian, Geneva Academy and Roseburg Junior Academy also continue to operate under the clause.
Kevin Miller, superintendent for Winston-Dillard School District, posted on Facebook that he was still reading through the guidance and what it would mean for the schools.
“I will post more information as it becomes available,” Miller wrote. “Please help us by continuing to reduce virus spread in our county, the lower the case count the better chance we have of maintaining in-person education services in the future. We did hear from (Douglas Public Health Network) today that, so far this week, the COVID case count is trending lower. Great Job Douglas County, keep up the good work!”
All schools that were open to on-site, in-person instruction on Oct. 30 were eligible to remain open under the clause.
Many school districts in Douglas County, including Roseburg Public Schools, Sutherlin School District and South Umpqua School District, opted to transition to distance learning when COVID-19 cases started increasing exponentially in November.
Douglas County has fallen in the state’s red or “Distance Learning” column in the metrics for the past month.
Under the new metrics, schools open under the Safe Harbor Clause must transition to distance learning if there are two or more unrelated individual cases without a known source of exposure, the school experiences two or more confirmed cases with onset within 14 days, the school is unable to maintain staff capacity, or the school is found to be out-of-compliance with other sections of the state guidance.
The state metrics say that a school is in “Distance Learning” when there are more than 200 cases per 100,000 people over a two-week period, “Transition” learning is when there are between 100 to 199 cases per 100,000 people over a two-week, “On-Site and Distance Learning” is when there are 50-99 cases per 100,000 people during that same time frame, and “On-Site” is when there are less than 50 cases per 100,000 people in two weeks time.
Schools open under the Safe Harbor Clause in counties that are in the “Transition” column should discuss options with the local public health authority.
Counties in “On-Site” or “On-Site and Distance Learning” can continue operating in person.
There will also be additional updates in the state guidance to align with the new quarantine period recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“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,” Gill said.
The guidance will continuously be updated as more information becomes available regarding the coronavirus.