Oregon Governor Kate Brown held a news conference this week to layout a framework for reopening schools this fall. She warned that this coming school year will be unlike any other school year on record.
Oregon school districts have been working on plans for the 2020-21 school year using the Oregon Department of Education’s (ODE) Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance. The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) has been working with ODE and the Early Learning division to develop science-based COVID-19 criteria for school district officials to use while making operating decisions for the fall.
What the metrics mean
Under the metrics described for school in-person learning, each county must have 10 or fewer cases per 100,000 residents over seven days, with the countywide and state test positivity rate at 5 percent or less over the span of the week. Currently, Oregon does not meet that standard. In the past week, case rates across the state were about 50 per 100,000, with the positivity rate approaching 5 percent.
Given the current spread of COVID-19 in both rural and urban communities this summer, most Oregon students will need to begin the school year by focusing on distance learning or will have a hybrid model combining online learning and in-person classroom instruction part of the week. Districts have been developing plans to provide high quality education to all students, including those who were disproportionately impacted by the move to distance learning last spring.
Schools are beginning to announce their plans for this fall, and very few are planning to have students physically attend class full-time. In fact, Portland Public Schools has already said it will have online classes only until at least November 5. Other large districts, including Beaverton, Tigard-Tualatin and North Clackamas are also planning for distance learning.
Education is critically important, and the goal of these guidelines is to keep Oregonians safe, and to minimize the spread of the disease. The total amount of confirmed and presumptive cases in Oregon since the start of the pandemic has surpassed 17,400. At least 303 people have died.
The new metrics for school reopening came as OHA reported a record number of 14 deaths in a single day. Studies have shown that children ages 10-19 do spread the virus, however transmission by children younger than age 10 is rare. Metrics for Kindergarten through grade 3 classrooms will be looser, but in-person instruction can only begin if there are fewer than 30 cases per 100,000 and if COVID-19 is not actively spreading in the school. The positivity rate must remain at 5 percent or less. If cases surge, schools that have reopened will have to transition to distance learning.
Classroom face masks
When schools do reopen, students, teachers and school staff will be required to wear face masks. The ODE is allocating $5 million for face mask distribution to school districts to meet this mandate. Districts offering in-person instruction will need to create plans that include training for staff and community notification if they need to switch back to distance learning due to increasing COVID-19 infection rates.
For many students, families and communities, high school sports play an important role in personal growth, team building and civic pride, and I’m looking forward to the days when we can once again enjoy the camaraderie of rousing competitions. However, Governor Brown says this coming sports year is also going to look different. There will be opportunities for non-contact, limited competitions, but we don’t have all the details yet. The state is currently working on those guidelines which will be released soon.
Lawmakers will be returning to Salem in the next few weeks, after the Governor calls a Special Session to deal with the budget shortfall brought on by the pandemic-related economic shut down. We will consider reductions in agency budgets, cuts in programs and activities, and tapping reserves to rebalance the budget. As always, I’ll keep the needs of HD 31 as my top priority as we work to make the budgetary adjustments. For that reason, I’m asking people to weigh in on the issues, and let me know your thoughts and concerns.
Capital Building closed
As is the case with many public spaces, the Oregon Capitol Building remains closed to the public, but my office staff and I monitor our email and phone daily, and we are working to assist constituents. If you need help, have an issue or concern please feel free to contact my office.
Please take care of yourself and each other. Be Safe.
Rep. Brad Witt serves House District 31. He may be reached at: