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New Oregon Department of Education metrics allow Jefferson County students to return to school

HOLLY SCHOLZ/MADRAS PIONEER - Culver Elementary School teacher Carolyn Herringshaw tells her morning third-grade cohort the plan for the day.

Local school district leaders are meeting this week to review updated metrics and make plans for returning students to in-person instruction.

In a press conference Friday, Oct. 30, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown shared updates to the Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance, including updated metrics for returning to in-person instruction.

"Guided by data, these metrics offer an intentional and measured approach to returning to in-person instruction while recognizing the importance of meeting our kids' academic needs — and allow for in-person instruction in places of our state where the risk of COVID-19 is lower. They also set a North Star for the rest of the state to work toward," said Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill in a press release.

Culver School District Superintendent Stefanie Garber said that based on these new metrics, school districts in Jefferson County are now able to move to operating onsite if cases do not have a drastic increase.

"Culver School District will begin planning immediately as this shift will take a lot of work to design new plans and protocols," she said Friday. "It will take several weeks to prepare, and because the metrics were just released, we have not developed a timeline yet."

Committees at Culver schools started meeting this week.

Jefferson County School District Superintendent Ken Parshall noted that the new metrics continue to provide very strict restrictions for group sizes, sanitation and social distancing. Planning teams met Monday to review the newest metrics and develop a plan for the safe return of students to in-person learning.

"We hope to be able to distribute plans and timelines to families and staff by the end of the week," Parshall said.

ODE shared key changes to the metrics:

A clear set of reachable targets for communities to strive for, with a North Star of returning Oregon students to in-person instruction.

Acknowledgement that Oregon's Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance's strong public health protocols in structured settings like schools can greatly reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19.

Additional time for schools to transition between in-person and distance learning models.

Increased access to in-person instruction at the elementary level.

A two-week "look back" at the metrics data rather than one week at a time over a three-week period.

Removes state positivity rate in favor of county positivity rates.

"The metrics were changed to allow more students in Oregon to be in school," Garber said.

She explained that if there are fewer than 30 cases in Jefferson County in the past two weeks, then Jefferson County kindergarten through 12th grade students can be onsite. If cases are between 30 and 45, then only kindergarten through sixth grade can be onsite. If cases are between 45 and 60 for the two-week period and increasing, students will then move to full Comprehensive Distance Learning.

On Monday, Jefferson County Public Health reported 11 COVID-19 positive individuals under isolation in Jefferson County and 10 close contacts completing their quarantine.

According to the ODE press release, the metrics are based on the latest COVID-19 studies and data, align to Centers for Disease Control recommendations, are in line with standards in other states like California, and help Oregon meet its priority to return students to in-person instruction.

Since Oregon's metrics were originally issued in August, more data has become available from school districts across the country. ODE worked with the Oregon Health Authority to establish when students can return to the classroom while still mitigating the risk of COVID-19 spread.

"A key lesson from the review of national school data is that Oregon school districts can help protect student and staff health and well-being during in-person instruction when community spread is sufficiently low and when school districts strictly adhere to the health and safety protocols now in place in Oregon," the release said.

The metrics updates take effect immediately and, based on last week's data points, potentially allow close to 130,000 students to return to some in-person instruction.

"We all know that in-person instruction provides our children and families with more than access to an equitable education," ODE Director Gill said. "Schools are a center of services to students and families, offering nutritious meals, access to social-emotional and mental health supports, as well as physical health services."

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