The youngest Roseburg Public School students will return to distance learning, as COVID-19 cases and test positivity rates continue to climb in Douglas County.
Throughout the county schools are making decisions on how to continue education.
The decision whether to stay open or return to distance learning belongs to each school district, as nearly all schools in Douglas County opened to on-site, in-person learning prior to Oct. 30 and fall under a Safe Harbor Clause from the Oregon Department of Education.
“We have been working closely with the Douglas Public Health Network and consulting with Douglas County Public Health Officer Dr. Bob Dannenhoffer regarding our district’s status. Dr. Dannenhoffer strongly recommends that Roseburg Public Schools close to in-person learning until case numbers decline,” said Roseburg Public Schools Superintendent Jared Cordon.
Dannenhoffer and other members from the local public health network will offer advice to school districts on the spread of coronavirus within each community in Douglas County and the role of schools. But the final decision will be made by the school district itself.
Camas Valley Charter School Superintendent Don Wonsley said Monday that on-site learning would continue in his school district.
“When we met and discussed the situation, the staff thought it was in the best interest of the kids and families to keep on-site learning happening at the school,” Wonsley said Friday. On Monday he added, “We will continue with on-site learning unless there are other cohorts that are affected in the school or Douglas Health thinks it is in the best interest of our community and school to pause.”
A bus driver for Camas Valley Charter School tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday and 47 students were asked to quarantine for 14 days, and will transition to distance learning.
Douglas County had 209.4 cases per 100,000 people and a test positivity of 13.4 % during the two-week period ending Nov. 14, according to data released by the Oregon Health Authority on Monday. This means the county has officially shifted into the Distance Learning instructional model according to the latest state health metrics.
Schools that opened under the new metrics, which were released on Oct. 30, will be required to make the transition to distance learning by Friday. Schools were in the Transition model last week and had been informed by the local public health agency that the numbers were likely to increase. State guidance applies to both public and private schools.
However, school districts that were operating in compliance with previous metrics could continue operating under a Safe Harbor Clause until Jan. 4.
Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill said, “I would not advise this, especially if the cases are in their communities/schools.” There have been at least 23 COVID-19 cases, positive and presumed positive, in Douglas County kindergarten through 12th-grade schools.
Roseburg Public Schools, Days Creek Charter School, Reedsport Community Charter School and Elkton Charter School will be making the switch to distance learning.
In Roseburg, grades 4-12 are already participating in distance learning, the preschool through third grade classes will start distance learning on Nov. 23. Athletic and activity practices will be paused by the school district until at least Dec. 7, depending on the metrics.
South Umpqua School District, Sutherlin School District and Camas Valley Charter School will continue with on-site instruction.
“Although Douglas County COVID-19 case counts have been very high, Dr. Dannenhoffer confirmed that Myrtle Creek, Tri City, and Canyonville communities are not particular hot spots,” said South Umpqua School District Superintendent Kate McLaughlin. “This means we are able to continue with our current in-person plans, even though our county is technically in the ‘red zone’ on the metrics chart.”
Other Douglas County schools are waiting to make an official announcement. Winston-Dillard School District, for example, announced its school board would make a final decision during Wednesday’s regular board meeting.
A school can decide to take a pause, but Oregon Department of Education spokesperson Peter Rudy said schools would need to fall in the On-Site or On-Site and Distance Learning categories before students would be able to go back to school buildings following a “pause.”
Schools that do initiate distance learning will have to continue teaching remotely until the case rate per 100,000 drops below 100 and the test positivity rate is below 8% during a two-week period, also known as the On-Site and Distance Learning model. Schools can start planning a transition when the case rate per 100,000 is at or below 200 and the test positivity at or below 10% during a two-week period.
Under the Distance Learning model, schools may continue to offer limited in-person instruction to specific groups of students based on their needs, such as special education, English language learners and career, technical educational. This education would be in addition to comprehensive learning and would not count toward instructional time requirements set by the state.
Small and remote schools, both public and private, can also continue to offer in-person education. However, the state has adjusted its classification of small and remote schools since Oct. 30. Currently, small and remote schools are considered those with an enrollment at or below 75 students and located more than 25 miles from any town or city with a population over 3,000 people. Those schools can only open if there is no community spread in areas served by the school or community spread in primary places of employment or community centers.
Glide School District can also offer instruction to students directly impacted by wildfires. No other schools in Douglas County fall under that exception.
The statewide two-week freeze that was announced Friday by Gov. Kate Brown will not have a direct impact on school openings or closing, however, they are asked to help in the effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
“Require work from home opportunities when possible for staff,” Gill told superintendents Friday. “It is allowable for staff to be on campus to provide in-person instruction, for stable internet, and for other services deemed essential by the employer.”
Additionally, schools are asked to communicate about the travel advisory, ensure strong screening protocols, emphasize the key practices for reducing the spread in schools, watch for an updated athletic guidance, and to review facility use agreements for other uses.