Schools consider latest reopening metrics

Under the latest metrics instituted by the state, only grades K-3 could currently be eligable to return to school in September, with all other grades likely not returning to classrooms until at least October.

Most grades will remain with online learning to start the year this September

New state opening metrics released Tuesday by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown will mean the majority of students in Oregon schools will be attending online only until at least October. The only exception to this could be K-3 students, which may possibly be allowed to attend onsite class in a limited hybrid model as early as September.

Last week, Brown changed plans by releasing three additional metrics:

• Statewide, the positivity rate for all tests must be at or below 5 percent to allow opening. 

• County-wide, the positivity rate must also be below 5 percent.

• Also, county-wide, there must be 10 or fewer cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day period.

For Lane County schools, the biggest issue is the state metric. Though the current county case rate is trending down (Under 15 and going to 10) with the positivity rate between 1 and 2. But the state positivity rate remains too high for any school to open for general onsite operations.

While the state positivity rate has been trending downward, it is still brushing against the 5 percent threshold.

Last Thursday, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) reported that the rate was 5.1, though it was as high as 7 the week prior. It’s also dipped as low as 4.6 percent. But even if the positivity rate declines to 5 percent, it could spike up again, resetting the whole process. 

Where school districts like South Lane stand today, they won’t get three weeks of data until Aug. 15 at the earliest — and that is a few days after the deadline given to districts to turn in reopening plans to Lane County for approval — which included start dates.

As for when onsite learning can begin, many schools are taking a measured approach in order to avoid a cycle of “in-and-out” schooling. 

This could mean onsite learning being delayed until October at the earliest. If the metrics aren’t met by then — which also happens to be the official start of flu season — it’s possible that the district would not return to in-class instruction until 2021.

If there’s one exception to the rule, it could be for students in kindergarten to third grade which, at the end of the new metrics, the state listed as an exception. Students in that grade range could be on campus if COVID-19 is not spreading in the community, if the county case rates are less than 30 for the last three weeks, and county test positivity is 5 percent or less.

Current county numbers would allow for this scenario, which would see grades K-3 spread out throughout an entire elementary school. Social distancing would also be easier with the populations of grades four and five at home.

However, the state was vague in this guideline. While it listed specifics for county metrics, it doesn’t mention the county overriding the state metric. Could the state metric play into the K-3 exception? So far, that question has yet to be answered.

Either way, this school year, distance education will look far different compared to last, where different programs were stitched together at the last minute when the governor closed schools in March. 

Gov. Kate Brown has also released $20 million in funds for districts around the state to help pay for connectivity. With all the changes, the currently shifting landscape of reopening has been frustrating for many parents who are still unsure as to what the rapidly approaching school year will look like. And with so many different factors at play, it’s possible that decisions now could change within weeks.

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