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School district says in-person instruction unlikely until at least mid-October.

PMG PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - A student peers in the window of North Gresham Elementary at the start of the 2019 school year. Students will start the 2020-21 school year online. Gresham-Barlow students will start the school year online, come September.

Students are now scheduled to start school Sept. 14, with a distance learning model, and won't return to in-person learning until at least mid-October.

The district's first day of school was moved back from Sept. 8 to Sept. 14, following an announcement from Gov. Kate Brown and Oregon public health officials, Tuesday, July 28.

The governor was joined by officials from the Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Department of Education, to roll out the state's revised school reopening guidelines, which rely on health metrics for COVID-19.

For Multnomah and Washington counties, it's highly unlikely cases will diminish enough to meet the state's metrics.

"Because of current Oregon Health Authority and Governor Brown's guidelines for Phase 1, instruction will be completely on-line at least through mid-October," the district told families in a letter Tuesday evening. "At that point, the District will determine whether in-person instruction can begin based on guidance established by the Oregon Department of Education and the Oregon Health Authority."

Gresham-Barlow Superintendent A. Katrise Perera said the decision wasn't easy.

"The decision to begin online has not come (without) a lot of scenario planning, monitoring of medical experts data, ODE guidelines, collaborating with colleagues, stakeholders - and yet, learning about the projected learning and achievement gaps concerns me greatly," Perera said late Tuesday evening. "Theoretically, the the science and data of COVID19 can seemingly make our instructional delivery model decision appear to be easy. The decision to begin in a virtual learning environment - when we know our students instructional and social-emotional needs are ever growing makes this decision one of the most difficult in my career."

The district said it is in the process of finalizing its Return to Learn Plan for the upcoming school year, after soliciting parent feedback.

The district's target in-person start date is sooner than neighboring districts. Portland Public Schools announced it won't have students back in the classroom until at least Nov. 5. In Beaverton, classes are currently scheduled on campus on Nov. 14, if health metrics allow.

After initially planning for a hybrid model of in-person instruction and remote learning, the state released updated rules Tuesday, indicating counties will need to show a low number of COVID-19 case numbers before students can step foot in a classroom. According to the new rules, a school district may only reopen to in-person instruction if the county has 10 or fewer COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents and 5% or less increase in positive tests per week. A county must meet those standards for three consecutive weeks to qualify for school reopening. Additionally, Oregon must have a 5% or less positive test rate, according to Brown's new mandate.

Separate, less restrictive rules apply for kindergarten through third grades, which rely more heavily on in-person learning during their formative years to meet critical developmental benchmarks, state officials said. For those younger students, Currently, only one county in Oregon would qualify to reopen its school district.

On Tuesday, Oregon reported 342 new COVID-19 cases, and 14 deaths, the highest in the state to-date. Among those who succumbed to the virus was a 26-year-old from Yamhill County.


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