State loosens COVID-19 standards for some counties, school districts

The Banks Elementary School on August 5, 2020. Photo: Chas Hundley

The state updated the “Ready Schools, Safe Learners” document Friday, October 30 to relax standards for reopening schools in Oregon, a move that Governor Kate Brown said could allow up to 130,000 students to return to in-person education right away. Individual districts ultimately make a decision on whether to reopen once they meet state standards for doing so. 

“Today we are sharing scheduled updates to our metrics for schools. Guided by data, these metrics offer an intentional and measured approach to returning to in-person instruction while recognizing the importance of meeting our kids’ academic needs—and allow for in-person instruction in places of our state where the risk of COVID-19 is lower. They also set a North Star for the rest of the state to work toward,” said Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill. in a press release on Friday, October 30. “We all know that in-person instruction provides our children and families with more than access to an equitable education. Schools are a center of services to students and families, offering nutritious meals, access to social-emotional and mental health supports, as well as physical health services.” 

“Our updated metrics are based on the latest COVID-19 studies and data, are aligned with CDC recommendations, and bring Oregon in sync with the standards of other states like California,” said Governor Kate Brown. “They also help us meet our priority of returning students to in-person instruction. These metrics still place a very high bar for low case counts to open schools, while at the same time providing more flexibility for our younger students.”

For Banks and other Washington County districts, though, the metrics do not allow for a return to in-person learning yet. With increased COVID-19 cases throughout the county, including the highest single daily count occurring on Thursday, with another record breaking day today, Washington County is among at least 12 counties that have case counts too high to reopen. 

“We are still reviewing this new information and evaluating what it will mean for our district,” the Banks School District said in a statement on the district website. 

But for the second quarter of the 2020-2021 school year, the district was clear: Students should prepare to be in Comprehensive Distance Learning through January 29, unless the county and district meet state metrics to reopen.

“All students for Quarter 2 will be in Comprehensive Distance Learning (CDL) until the metrics allow us to return to in-person school,” the district said. 

The district plans to issue a survey next week to parents to gauge how ready families are for a return to in-person learning.

Under the new metrics, the district will be able to focus on getting younger students into classrooms first once the new metrics are met, a process that is expected to take 4 weeks from the start of the process when the district qualifies for reopening to when students are fully back in a classroom.

That timeline has not begun, with no date on when it might happen. 

According to OHA data as of Sunday, October 25, there have been 35 COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic in the 97106 zip code, which includes the city of Banks and surrounding rural areas. Data for smaller zip codes, such as Buxton or Timber, is lumped together with all small zip codes in Oregon and is near-useless for determining COVID-19 spread in smaller communities. 

Under the old metrics, the district announced on Tuesday that students would continue to learn under the Comprehensive Distance Learning model through at least January 29, 2021, though in a letter to parents and students, Banks School District Superintendent Jeff Leo said that the district will continue to monitor the situation and make changes as needed. 

Leo noted in an email to the Banks Post prior to Friday’s new metric release that he would be updating the reopening stages document released on Tuesday with the new metrics if needed.  

“We know this has been difficult for everyone and we will work as quickly and efficiently as possible to facilitate a transition back to our physical schools when the metrics allow this,” Leo said. 

All the changes to the metrics can be read in this document.

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Chas Hundley is the editor of the Banks Post and sister news publications the Gales Creek Journal and the Salmonberry Magazine. He grew up in Gales Creek and has a cat.

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