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But Jefferson County's drop from 'green' level could jeopardize school start date

HOLLY SCHOLZ/MADRAS PIONEER
 - Many Culver Elementary School students have attended school two hours a day since mid-September. District leaders prepare to bring all students back on campus full time Nov. 30 if COVID numbers do not spike.

School districts in Jefferson County received news Monday afternoon that they are no longer in the "green" go level.

Jefferson County School District 509-J and Culver School District superintendents had announced late last week that all grade levels could return to in-person instruction on Monday, Nov. 30 as long as county COVID-19 cases did not significantly increase in the coming weeks.

Those hopes were dampened Monday when Oregon Health Authority reported that Jefferson County had 30 COVID-19 positive cases in Jefferson County for the week of Oct. 25 through Nov. 7, a 7.4% test positivity rate.

On Oct. 30, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown shared updates to the Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance, including updated metrics for returning to in-person instruction. The new metrics allow more Oregon students to be in school.

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.

Monday's report bumped Jefferson County down from the "green" onsite level to the "yellow" onsite and distance learning level.

Local school districts have to wait and see what the case numbers are on Monday, Nov. 16 to determine which grades – if any – are allowed back on campus.

Jefferson County School District 509-J

Jefferson County School District 509-J Superintendent Ken Parshall said Monday evening after a school board meeting that when the district first announced the Nov. 30 return to school date on Friday, the county was in the "green" zone for all grades to return to class.

"Present metrics allow us to open elementary and build upon that to open all levels," Parshall said of the "yellow" level.

The district will remain in the Comprehensive Distance Learning model until schools reopen. District leaders are hopeful that all grades can return to class on Nov. 30, the Monday following the week of Thanksgiving. This depends on the two-week look back case count dropping below 30.

"These metrics are fluid and can change week to week," Parshall said. "We will continue to monitor the health metrics and strategically plan to open safely."

He said families fear sending their students back to school only to have them go back to distance learning if COVID-19 cases suddenly increase.

"Once we open, it's harder to put us out. There's more flexibility as long as the increase in infections is not happening in the schools. We're not just automatically stopped from having school," Parshall said. "We don't have to stop going to school unless that spread is occurring in the school, which is really rare, according to the governor and the Oregon Health Authority."

In order for school teams to prepare for in-person instruction, 509-J students will not have school on the next two Fridays, Nov. 13 and Nov. 20.

"We've been planning for required safety procedures, transportation, meal service, school start times, and staffing for in-person instruction and online instruction," Parshall said in a Nov. 6 letter to district families. "We are beginning with a staggered start to support students and staff as they all learn new routines and procedures."

Students will remain in distance learning until the day their grade returns to school in person. Madras High School will communicate the details of their hybrid schedule directly with families.

"We feel an urgency to provide the option for students to return to school, while still allowing families the choice of staying online with our CASA Online program," Parshall said. "We will follow all of the safety recommendations as we open."

Required safety measures include wearing of masks at all times, frequent handwashing and use of hand sanitizer, social distancing or spacing in all areas of the school, limiting the size of student cohorts or groups, and strict cleaning requirements.

Limiting the number of students on each bus is a recommendation of the new guidance. Parshall said roughly half of the district's nearly 3,000 students rely on district transportation. The district asks students to remain three feet apart at all times on the bus and to only share a seat with those who live in the same household. Due to these restrictions, the district will operate alternative bus routes and adjusted pick-up and drop-off schedules. Bus routes and schedules will be communicated to families the week of Nov. 16-20.

Students participating in in-person learning at the schools will receive breakfast and lunch at their school site. Students participating in the CASA Online program will pick up meals at their school of record.

"We know this journey has been very difficult for families and students, and we are looking forward to working with our students and families for a safe return to in-person learning and the continuation of the CASA program for those preferring an online option," Parshall said in his letter.

Culver School District

As long as COVID-19 cases remain below 30 for two weeks, the three Culver School District schools can open their doors for students to be in school more than two hours a day beginning Nov. 30.

Jefferson County COVID-19 cases had decreased significantly, up until late last week, allowing Culver School District to be "in the green" section, meaning they could have full days with students on campus, explained Culver School District Superintendent Stefanie Garber on Thursday. "Over the next two weeks, details and final plans will be established."

Because Culver is a small district with 661 students, state guidelines allowed for the majority of the students to be onsite for two hours a day, five days a week for limited in-person instruction beginning Sept. 14.

In August, families could choose to have their students onsite for two hours a day to supplement their remote learning, full-time Comprehensive Distance Learning, or packet work.

"We are working fast and furious on determining schedules, protocols, safety, cleaning, cohorts, transportation, meals, etc." Garber said in a Nov. 5 letter to district families.

Should Jefferson County be at the "green" level, beginning Nov. 30, students in kindergarten through eighth grade will be allowed onsite from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. five days a week. Plans for students in grades nine through 12 are still in development, but the district is looking at having high schoolers attend school alternating days.

District families were sent a survey Friday to choose their preferred instructional model. Families had two options for each student: onsite only or online every day through Edgenuity, which is a change from the current online method.

"Of the parents who have completed the survey for the instructional model, 93% so far have picked onsite instruction for their students," Garber said Tuesday morning.

Meals will be provided on campus for students in the onsite instructional model. Families of online students will determine if they want meals delivered or not.

Culver School District's regular bus routes will go into effect Nov. 30 with the regulations of masks and distancing. Routes will be posted on the district website on Nov. 20.

Students will navigate their day in their classes with the limitation of not interacting with more than 100 students per week, Garber pointed out. Students will still distance and wear face coverings as required by the state mandates.

Garber said safety will remain a priority.

"We appreciate your patience and share in your frustration with these challenging times," Garber told district families. "We are thrilled that we get the opportunity to provide more onsite instruction and value the time with your child/children."


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