Oregon announces new COVID metrics for school reopening

Of The Associated Press/Report for America

SALEM — Oregon officials on Friday announced new COVID-19 metrics to determine when students can return to K-12 schools for in-person learning, with the aim of getting more children back into the classroom.

However even under the new, relaxed metric requirements, about 80% of Oregon students will still not be eligible for in-person learning, state officials said.

“We want our kids at in-person instruction. We believe that most of our teachers want to be in person with their students,” said Colt Gill, the direction of the Oregon Department of Education. “But, everybody wants to do that with stability and with as little risk as possible.”

Previously in order for a school district to commence any form of in-person learning, the county must have 10 or fewer new cases per 100,000 residents over seven days for three weeks. In addition, the countywide and state test positivity rate must be 5% or less for three consecutive weeks.

The original metrics have been described by some educators and parents as too restrictive.

“I do think that many community members thought that our targets were unreachable,” Gill said. “This new set of metrics is more in line where the CDC is. It is in line with where California is.” 

Under the new metrics, counties that have 200 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people — over 14 straight days — will remain in distance learning. If the county has between 100 to 200 cases that places them in the transition column. Fifty to 100 cases places a county in a hybrid of on-site and distance learning. Counties with less than 50 cases are eligible for on-site learning. 

“We are taking a very measured and methodical approach, so (some people) might say that these are relaxed metrics, but the vast majority of Oregon students will still be getting their education from a distance,” Gill said.

The state's department of education estimates that potentially 130,000 students could at some point soon return to some in-person instruction. There are about 600,000 public school students in Oregon.

“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,” Gill said.

Officials stressed that while some schools metrics are eligible to return to on-site instruction, it should be done incrementally and beginning with younger grades.

While officials described the new metrics as “achievable”, 12 counties are not eligible for in-person learning or a hybrid — including Oregon's most populous counties such as Multnomah.

However nine counties are eligible for elementary students to return to school and 15 counties are eligible for K-12 schools to return. Many of the counties that are eligible are rural and have school's that have already returned to in-person learning.

“Our kids need in person instruction. It is more effective for the vast majority of them,” Gill said. “We know that we can get there. These metrics are achievable and they can help if we follow the guidelines.”

The announcement of the new metrics arrived the day after the state's highest coronavirus daily case count - 575. October, which has seen a rise in cases, has been marked with grim COVID-19 milestones — surpassing 40,000 cases and 600 deaths.

Gill said when they first announced metrics in July, the plan was always to review, reevaluate and set new ones.

“(OHA) was among the very first states to create metrics for returning to in-person instruction in early August. At that time they were based in large part on successes seen in other countries, as school was not in session in the U.S.,” Gill said.

In a few weeks the new metrics will again be reevaluated, officials said.

“We want our kids at in-person instruction. We believe that most of our teachers want to be in person with their students,” Gill said. “But everybody wants to do that with stability and with as little risk as possible.”


Cline is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues..


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