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School district will continue using comprehensive distance learning until the end of its second quarter

PMG FILE PHOTO - The Woodburn School District announced that Comprehensive Distance Learning will remain in place through at least Jan. 28.Woodburn School District students will remain home for at least the next three months, according to an announcement from Superintendent Oscar Moreno Gilson on Wednesday, Oct. 21.

Gilson posted a message to parents and students through social media and on the district's website, stating that Woodburn schools would continue using its Comprehensive Distance Learning (CDL) model through the end of the second quarter on Jan. 28.

Oregon students entered the 2020-21 school year in September with the understanding that the CDL model would be in place until at least November, at which time the Oregon Department of Education would reevaluate if it was safe to return to in-person classes.

At the time, the state's daily COVID-19 infection numbers were on a decline after peaking at 407 new cases on July 24. That decline continued through the first two weeks of September, culminating in just 119 new cases on Sept. 9, the lowest number of reported cases since 102 were reported on June 27.

But the number of infections began to rise again, following a nationwide trend of increasing COVID-19 cases. The state saw its highest reported daily infection numbers on Oct. 8 with 475 cases, putting in jeopardy the possibility of returning to classes in November.

COURTESY PHOTO: RICK VASQUEZ - Woodburn Superintendent Oscar Moreno Gilson"Due to the continued high number of cases in our county, we will not be returning to the in-person or hybrid instructional model until the criteria that the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) and Oregon Health Authority (OHA) have established in their matrix that lets us know when it is safe to do so," Gilson stated in his message to the community.

The state's infection peak came two days after Gov. Kate Brown announced her administration's intent to revisit and relax the state's metrics to accelerate school reopening.

She cited a federal government announcement that it has begun dispersing a new kind of rapid coronavirus test to states. "We anticipate Oregon's share will be increased to roughly 80,000 rapid antigen tests per week," roughly doubling the state's capacity, Brown said in the press conference. She called the news "huge," but added that "we cannot test our way out of this pandemic."

Asked if "reevaluating" meant lowering the benchmarks for schools to reopen, Brown indicated the answer is yes: "We're still exploring this issue, but I think it's fair to say that the statewide metric, frankly, is quite challenging for communities around the state. And my top priority is to make sure that we get our kids back into school safely."

The 97071 area code — which includes Woodburn and surrounding rural areas — once led Marion County in COVID infection rates, but has dropped in recent weeks. WOODBURN SCHOOL DISTRICT - Woodburn School DistrictBetween Oct. 4 and Oct. 17, the incidence rate for the area code is 176.5 cases per 100,000 residents, a reduction of nearly 50 cases per 100,000 residents in the past two weeks. The Woodburn area has reported 52 new cases in the past two weeks, the fourth-highest number in the county behind central Salem, northeast Salem and Brooks and southeast Salem.

While the announcement from the Woodburn School District may be disheartening for parents and students who were eager to return to in-person learning for the first time since March, Gilson stated the possibility of a restrictive in-person classes before the end of the second quarter.

"The CDL requirement on metric levels from the OHA is less restrictive for small groups and, therefore, there is a possibility that we can start bringing small groups of students sooner," he stated. "Please rest assured that when we begin bringing small groups of students back on campus, we remain committed to the safety of our staff and students."

Members of the Woodburn Education Association labor union held a rally on Oct. 9 pushing back at proposals for onsite work, among other considerations, citing lack of communication between the district and staff in the decision to return to in-person learning.

According to the WEA website, Woodburn teachers demand that onsite work during CDL should not be required, with some limited exceptions, and additional COVID-19 leave be made available to educators.

"We want the community to understand that the district has refused to prioritize safety for our students and staff," WEA Vice President Tony Salm said earlier in the month. "So far, all of our efforts to this end have been met with resistance. They continue to insist on the right to require educators to work onsite, which is why we've decided that it's time to put the community on alert. We can't have a safe and healthy community without safe and healthy teachers and students."PMG PHOTO JUSTIN MUCH - The Woodburn Education Association held a rally on Oct. 9 to protest against the district's communication with staff members regarding COVID-19 and concerns about returning to in-person learning.

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