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Opening of Crook County schools will depend solely on the number of local cases

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - The opening of Crook County schools will depend solely on the number of local cases.

An unexpected move by the Oregon Department of Education could mean Crook County students in grades 4-12 could return to class sooner.

ODE announced in a letter to Oregon school districts Friday that it will suspend county and state test positivity rates through September due to the recent wildfires. Total case counts and cases per 100,000 will remain as the leading metrics for reopening schools.

"I'm surprised by ODE's announcement today, and I'm more optimistic than ever that we are going to have students back in person soon," explained Crook County School District Superintendent Dr. Sara Johnson on Friday. "We now have two potential pathways to reopening: meeting local metrics or ODE approving our pilot designation."

When the news was initially received, local educators were hopeful that it opened the door for grades 4-12 to return to classes in early October. Crook County had met all local metrics the first two weeks of September.

However, there was likely one too many cases reported during the third week to allow local schools to reopen for grades 4-12. Crook County had two reported cases at the time of the ODE letter, but a third case was reported Saturday. This means the district will start over, waiting for a new three weeks of two or fewer cases.

Once metrics are in the district's favor, the school district will submit plans to ODE to transition from distance learning to hybrid. The following steps would take place for a potential reopening: Declare hybrid model to ODE; utilize one week to plan and communicate with parents; grades 4-12 begin returning for in-person instruction.

Before the third case was reported Saturday, principals were working with teachers last week to finalize plans for each building, and the school district planned to release full details to families once the COVID-19 metrics were updated. Students and teachers were going to continue with Comprehensive Distance Learning this week regardless of the metrics.

The ODE announcement came one day after the school district sent a letter to the department asking for an update on its pilot designation request. The designation would allow grades 4-12 to return to school buildings under a hybrid model combining online learning at home and classroom learning. The request was initially submitted on Wednesday, Sept. 16.

ODE acknowledged the follow up but still has not responded with a final decision.

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