Depending on COVID case numbers released Tuesday, students in grades 4-12 could return to schools as early as Sept. 14

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Students in grades 4-12 could return to schools as early as Sept. 14.

Local COVID metrics opened the door for K-3 students to start the school year in the classroom, rather than online.

At the time that decision was made, Crook County numbers had not yet met the state-mandated threshold to allow grades 4-12 back to school buildings. But they have been trending that direction, spurring discussion about how to proceed in the weeks ahead.

K-3 students are allowed to return to classrooms if the number of cases per 100,000 in a county is 30 or fewer for three consecutive weeks and if the county's positive test rate during that timeframe is 5% or lower. Grades 4-12, by contrast, cannot return to in-person education until the case total per 100,000 is 10 or fewer for three consecutive weeks. In addition, the overall state positive test rate must be 5% or lower during that span.

According to Oregon Health Department data, Crook County case totals per 100,000 have been nine on the week beginning Aug. 16 and zero for the week beginning Aug. 23. Meanwhile, the state positive test rate during those weeks has been 5.0% and 4.4%.

Data for the week beginning Aug. 30 was not available by press deadline, however, but if the local case count stays below 10 per 100,000 people and the state's positive test rate stays at or below 5%, the local school district would be eligible to invite grades 4-12 back to in-person education.

In anticipation of this possibility, the Crook County School Board held a special meeting Thursday afternoon to discuss reopening plans for those grades.

During the meeting, board member Doug Smith moved that the district get as many students back in school as soon as possible provided all state metrics and safety protocols and guidelines are met. He also moved to give families one week of prior notice before opening schools to grades 4-12. The motion received unanimous board approval.

Release of data for the past week was expected on Monday or Tuesday. Once that occurred, educators planned to make an official announcement regarding grades 4-12. Depending on the numbers released, students in those grades could return to school as early Monday, Sept. 14.

As online education is necessary throughout the school year, students will have access to a distance learning model that educators developed and refined during the summer months. Schedules will include blocks of live video instruction, blocks of independent work time with teacher support, and some scheduled social time between peers. In addition, families will be given multiple educational options ranging from 100% in-person education (once it is allowed) to 100% online.

These options emerged after the district reached out to families in June and learned that some people are interested in learning more about alternative learning options.

"The old education model is changing, and we need to proactively come up with different ways of serving families. We're developing a menu of options next year for students who may not thrive well in the traditional school setting," CCSD Superintendent Dr. Sara Johnson said.

Crook County High School already offers an online option that is self-paced and allows students to develop their own schedule and access school athletics and other activities. Assistant Superintendent Dr. Joel Hoff, who heads up school improvement efforts, said that the goal of the school district is to build on that foundation and offer even more options to families with students in elementary, middle, and high school.

"We plan to work with families with students in all grade levels and tailor an experience that's unique to each individual child," he added. "That could include going to school in the morning and coming home and working online in the afternoon or it could mean your child remains fully online."

The district is also launching a Homeschool Partner Program for grades K-8 that will enable parents to educate children from home while receiving resources, coordination and support from teachers and the school district.

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