New Details posted at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 12

Columbia County officials have released the following statement concerning in-person instruction at local school districts.

With so much weighing heavily on the minds of Columbia County residents – COVID fatigue, election fatigue, which mask to wear on what day – the one thing we can all do is turn our minds to our children.

The call is out for Columbia County to come together (by way of social distancing) to make it our collective priority to get our kids back to school by January 4.

The Oregon Department of Education (ODE), as part of its planned guidance and metrics review process, recently released an update to the “Ready Schools, Safe Learners” guidance, which includes updated metrics Columbia County must meet to return to in-person instruction.

According to the ODE, a key lesson from the review of national school data is that Oregon school districts can help protect student and staff health and well-being during in-person instruction when community spread is sufficiently low and when school districts strictly adhere to the health and safety protocols now in place in Oregon.

While Oregon has experienced a recent spike in Covid cases, the metrics set forth by the ODE, working closely with the Oregon Health Authority, have set goals that each county has met previously. Work conducted by public health authorities across the state, including Columbia County’s own Public Health Department, has learned many of these cases and contacts were tied to small gatherings, where practical Covid-related safety measures were too relaxed.

“The current spike appears to be driven more by social and family gatherings where people let their guard down because they are comfortable with those they are around,” St. Helens School District Superintendent Scot Stockwell said. “We are all feeling Covid Fatigue at this time, yet if we don’t maintain good social distancing and wear masks, we put all of the sacrifices we’ve already made at risk of being worthless.”

As of October 19, masks are required statewide for people age five and older in:

  • All workplaces, indoor public spaces, public and private colleges and universities, and indoor and outdoor markets.
  • Outdoor public spaces when physical distancing of at least six feet is not possible.
  • People with a disability or medical condition may request accommodation from the business if they cannot wear one.

We’re all longing for human connection, but when it comes to small gatherings for the holidays, birthday parties, reunions, weddings, funerals, church services, family get-togethers, political events, and others, remember:

  • Indoor social gatherings in Oregon are limited to 10 people.
  • Face coverings are required in indoor public spaces and outdoors when you can’t keep six feet from others.
  • If you feel sick, don’t go. Stay home and away from others.
  • Keep it limited: limit the number of people you spend time with outside your household, and the number of gatherings you attend.
  • Keep it short: cut down on the amount of time you spend with people outside your household, especially if meeting indoors.
  • Stay six feet away from those you don’t live with and use waves or hand signals to greet guests.
  • Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash your hands – before and after hanging out.
  • Try not to touch surfaces and disinfect them after each use.
  • Limit sharing of food, drink, and utensils.
  • Avoid singing, chanting, or shouting inside. If you do, wear masks, give people space, and open windows.

Columbia County Public Health Director, Michael Paul, said he and his department have heard from people in all age groups and walks of life who had admittedly failed to appreciate how contagious COVID-19 is. Others have had a household member bring the virus home.

“As you follow the metrics outlined for returning to in-person instruction," Stockwell said "I can’t overemphasize the importance of wearing masks and practicing good social distancing if we want to bring kids back to school anytime soon. Remember, a January school reopening is only possible if we all celebrate the holidays responsibly and keep our COVID rates low over the coming weeks."

For more information about the “Ready Schools, Safe Learners” guidance, visit: https://www.oregon.gov/ode/students-and-family/healthsafety/Pages/Planning-for-the-2020-21-School-Year.aspx.

For more information about how to plan small gatherings safely, visit: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/large-events/considerations-for-events-gatherings.html.

Keep an eye on our Facebook page for more COVID-safety tips, and to see how and why the residents in Columbia County mask up: https://www.facebook..com/columbiacountyoregon.

Follow this developing story here online and in the Wednesday print editions of The Chronicle.

Previous Chronicle coverage posted at 4 p.m. Nov. 12

Columbia County school districts are carefully moving to resume in-person classroom instruction now that state metrics have been eased.

Back To School

Columbia County School Districts are moving to resume limited in-person instruction.

The following is a join letter sent to parents on Thursday, Nov. 12, from the superintendents of the St. Helens and Scappoose School Districts.

Students, Families, Staff, and Community:

On October 30, the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) released an updated version of the “Ready Schools, Safe Learners” guidance. They also revised the health metrics used to determine when it is safe to open for in-person instruction.

In making these updates, ODE and the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) looked at national data and found that COVID-19 spread can be mitigated in schools when community spread is sufficiently low and when school districts strictly adhere to appropriate health and safety protocols.

After careful review of the new information and metrics—and in close coordination with the Columbia County Public Health Department—we are aiming to reopen for in-person hybrid instruction for K-3 on January 4 based on guidance from our Local Public Health Authority, but only if we can keep our health metrics sufficiently low. Additional grades would open gradually based on how the metrics look after K-3 has reopened.

According to public health authorities from across the state, small, indoor gatherings are driving the recent spike in COVID-19 cases.

We urge our communities to stay safe and vigilant, especially during the upcoming holiday season. Right now, we are very close to falling into a level of health metrics that would result in a recommendation from public health to halt reopening plans.

Here’s what you can do to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 so our children can safely return to their classrooms:

  • Indoor social gatherings in Oregon are limited to 10 people (except for those counties on a two-week pause where the limit is six).
  • Face coverings are required in indoor public spaces and outdoors when you can’t keep six feet from others.
  • If you feel sick, don’t go. Stay home and away from others.
  • Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash your hands – before and after hanging out.
  • Limit the sharing of food, drink, and utensils.

We will continue to monitor our local COVID-19 metrics and keep you updated about our reopening plans. We draw a significant portion of our staff from Washington County and Multnomah County, in addition to a majority of our community commuting to these counties for work, so we are required to monitor metrics from those counties as well.

Our public health department monitors neighboring counties’ testing and hospital capacity to help us decide whether or not it’s safe to open since we rely on these regional systems.

This year has been indisputably challenging for our educators, students, and families. Thank you for your continued partnership as we work to provide your child with a quality education while reducing the spread of COVID-19.

As we work alongside our educators and public health partners to prepare for a safe reopening, we will provide you with regular updates, including opportunities to provide input and information about our safety protocols.

We’ll be in touch soon.

With gratitude,

Scot Stockwell

Superintendent St. Helens School District

Tim Porter

Superintendent  Scappoose School District

Other Columbia County School Districts

Clatskanie School District officials have told The Chronicle they will resume in-person instruction for kindergarten through third grade on Monday, Nov. 16. 

The Chronicle has also reached out to Rainier School District administrators and are waiting for their decision about resuming in-class instruction.

Follow this developing story here online and in the Wednesday print editions of The Chronicle.

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