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

The St. Helens and Scappoose School Districts have announced that in-person instruction is expected to resume in January under the state and local pandemic safety guidelines.

“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,” St. Helens School District Superintendent Scot Stockwell and Scappoose School District Tim Porter said in a join letter to parents issued Thursday, Nov. 12.

Stockwell and Porter said they are closely following the Oregon Department of Education’s (ODE) planned guidance and metrics review process, 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 (OHA), 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 superintendents’ letter reads.

“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.”

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.

The superintendents’ letter also states that the two school districts will continue to monitor local COVID-19 metrics and keep students, families and the community updated about the 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,” Porter and Stockwell wrote. “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.”

Clatskanie School District Superintendent Kathy Hurowitz had announced last week that the district would resume K-3rd grade in-class instruction on Monday, Nov. 16, but on Friday, Nov. 13, Hurowitz announced on the elementary school’s Facebook page that the school will be respecting the state’s two-week freeze and not open.

The school will continue to do distance learning and district officials will revisit the decision on Dec. 2, when the freeze is scheduled to be lifted.

“We will follow the guidance of the governor, Oregon Department of Education, and our local health authority,” Hurowitz wrote. “We are very saddened by this change of course. We know that students and families have been looking forward to returning to school soon.”

The Chronicle also reached out to the Rainier School District for a response about the governor’s statewide freeze and any new details about that district’s in-class instruction plans, but we had not received a reply as of late Tuesday afternoon.

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

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