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Guidelines loosened last week by governor for students to return to classrooms part-time

PMG FILE PHOTO - The Newberg School District has not yet met the state's guidelines for returning students to the classroom.

With students throughout the state largely learning in a remote setting so far this school year, Gov. Kate Brown and the Oregon Department of Education announced revised COVID-19 metrics on Oct. 30. The goal of the revised metrics was to relax restrictions for a partial or full return to the classroom, with safety from the virus at front of mind.

Under the new metrics, if a county's case rate is greater than 200 per 100,000 people over a span of two weeks, they must conduct distance learning, as the Newberg School District is now. The category Newberg currently falls in is the state's "transition" period, which ranges from 100 to 200 cases per 100,000 people over a two-week span.

On-site and hybrid learning can be phased in starting with elementary school students once cases in a county reach a range of 50 to less than 100 per 100,000 people. If that proves successful without any major outbreaks, school districts can then transition middle and high school students back to hybrid learning formats.

When cases in a county reach less than 50 per 100,000 people, along with meeting other case positivity metrics, districts can fully prioritize in-person and hybrid learning as needed.

"Newberg Public Schools is carefully working through all the changes to the guidance as we plan for safety," Newberg School District communications coordinator Gregg Koskela wrote in a message to parents. "While these new metrics are in force effective today, Newberg schools cannot yet open for in-person learning. Our county data still places us in the transitional category under the new guidance.

"We will continue our plans for moving first to limited in-person learning for unique cases soon. When the metrics allow, and when we are confident health safety protocols are in place for students and for staff, we will follow state guidance to first open kindergarten through third grade elementary hybrid learning, while middle and high school will remain in comprehensive distance learning (CDL). If and when COVID cases continue to decline, the next steps would be all elementary students in hybrid learning, and then all students in hybrid learning. Full in-person learning requires significant control of the virus (likely only after an effective vaccine is readily available)."

Wearing masks, social distancing and doing all the things public health officials recommend to slow the spread of the virus will bring case numbers down and help schools return faster, the school district said. Any positive cases among students as they return to hybrid or in-person learning, Koskela said, will immediately send their specific cohorts back to distance learning, for the safety of their classmates and the community.

"We know how challenging the pandemic and CDL are for students, families and staff," Koskela said. "We continue to work toward the goal of safe in-person learning. But the virus sets the timetable. The more we all work together to limit contact with others, wear masks, practice good hygiene and avoid gatherings with others, the sooner the number of cases will decrease enough to gradually and carefully move through steps of re-opening to in-person learning.

"Our COVID-19 case rate in Yamhill County for the last two weeks is 108.2, which puts us in the transition category under the new guidelines. Remember that there are many other specific guidelines we also must follow about distancing, cohorting, etc. Meeting the numbers does not immediately mean reopening, as we will take a planned and careful approach for Newberg Public Schools."

For more information on how the new school metrics will impact local schools, read a PDF provided by the district at https://bit.ly/2TRvZ7S.


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