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New governor mandate based on county case rates and postitive COVID testing percentages pushes back in-person start date for most grades

Crook County School District announced that most local students will start the school year with online education only.

In a news release issued by the school district Friday, planning for the reopening of schools in Oregon is a moving target, with new restrictions announced this week by Gov. Kate Brown. Since active cases of COVID-19 in Crook County exceed the new limits, most Crook County School District (CCSD) students will learn online until case rates decline and trend downward over time.

"We're obviously disappointed, because we know that students learn better interacting in-person with teachers and classmates," said Superintendent Dr. Sara Johnson. "We planned for a normal reopening Sept. 8, but these new health metrics from Salem have put a pause on that."

The new metrics require that each county in Oregon have 10 or fewer cases per 100,000 people and an active case rate of less than 5% of the total population for three straight weeks before students can return to classrooms. And there can be no active outbreaks. As of Friday, July 31st, Crook County has 28.7 cases per 100,000 and an active case rate of 2.8%. This means most students will learn from home.

The Governor's Office has made an exception for younger students in kindergarten through third grade. If cases are below 30 per 100,000 and less than 5% of the total population with no active outbreaks, then K-3 students are allowed in the classrooms. As of now, Crook County meets that metric with a case rate of 28.7 per 100,000 and a positivity rate of 2.8%. Dr. Johnson says the plan is to move forward with K-3 students returning to buildings, but the district will closely monitor case numbers throughout August. 

"We'd love to have our little ones in the classroom, because in-person instruction is critical for future success at that age, so we're keeping our fingers crossed case numbers trend down over the next few weeks," said Dr. Johnson.

The school district is retooling its distance learning options based on parent feedback from last spring. Every day, teachers will provide interactive virtual instruction with both hands-on and digital curriculum. Workbooks will also be included and the district plans to invest in training and support for teachers, so students receive a more robust experience at home. Crook County High School will continue to offer its regular menu of online and hybrid options.

In addition, CCSD is launching a new option called the Homeschool Partner Program for K-8 students. Families who choose this option will educate their children from home while receiving resources, coordination, and support from teachers and the school district. This includes the opportunity for homeschool students to take electives and other classes based on parent choice. Former CCHS science teacher, Jonny Oelkers, will be the new K-8 Homeschool Coordinator and serve as the district's advocate for families who choose that option. Mr. Oelkers has experience in the classroom and currently homeschools his own children, so he brings a unique perspective to the program.

"I'm excited about the opportunity to build long-term and meaningful connections between the school district and homeschool families," said Mr. Oelkers. "The advantage of this program over other online options is the support we can provide families by creating a more personalized experience."

The school district is committed to making sure all students are back in the classroom as soon as Crook County's health metrics allow. There will be a monthly review of the data and the district has set potential dates through the end of the year for a possible return to school.

Review dates include Aug. 15, for a potential school reopening of grades K-3 on Sept. 8, Sept. 15 for a Oct. 5 reopening for all students, Oct. 15 for a Nov. 2 reopening for all students and Nov 15 for a Dec. 1 reopening.

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