GRANTS PASS, Ore. — Under new, relaxed coronavirus metrics revealed on Friday, Governor Kate Brown says that roughly Oregon 130,000 students will be allowed to return to their classrooms. Most counties in southern Oregon, with the notable exception of Jackson County, currently have a clear path to bring students back.
Even so, Friday's announcement comes with a brand new set of guidelines that school officials will have to navigate, and several districts indicated that they would need time before any concrete changes appear.
"Grants Pass School District 7’s goal has always been to bring as many kids back to school as soon and as safely as possible," GPSD said in a statement. "We look forward to reviewing these new metrics and determining our next steps for reopening. We appreciate our school community’s patience as we take time to process and plan so that the adjustments we make are done safely and in the best interest of our students and staff."
Three Rivers School District, also in Josephine County, issued a similar statement:
"The goal of the Three Rivers School District continues to be returning as many students as possible back to the classroom. The district leadership team will be analyzing these new metrics and requirements in order to determine what needs to happen to make on-site instruction safe and available for all students and staff."
The Klamath County School District, which was already cautiously moving ahead with increased in-person learning in more rural areas, also said that it would be looking over the new guidance — but would go forward with the changes already in motion.
“We appreciate the support we received from parents and public health officials in promoting schools reopening for in-person instruction,” Superintendent Glen Szymoniak said. “We will continue to be diligent with safety and health protocols in keeping schools safe for students.”
Though the new metrics are effective immediately, KCSD said, Monday will be the first time that districts will be able to do a required two-week review of cases.
Oregon's new metrics removed the statewide test positivity benchmark, but kept county-level benchmarks relatively unchanged, with the exception of the timeframe. For a full K-12 return to in-person learning, a county needs to have a case rate of less than 50 cases per 100,000 people for a 14-day period, and a test positivity rate of less than 5 percent. With Klamath County's population of roughly 68,000, the first benchmark is actually 34 cases.
Klamath County has had a test positivity rate of under 5 percent since the week of October 11. Between October 11 and 24 (the last full 14-day period), Klamath County Public Health reported a total of 25 cases. On Monday, school officials will have to re-evaluate based on the most recent two-week period — but a spike this week, bringing the 14-day total to at least 38, appears to have broken the streak.
Regardless of the new metrics, several schools in the KCSD will have a return to some form of in-person learning on Monday. All Bonanza Junior/Senior High School students return for Monday through Thursday classes. Chiloquin schools will be returning with a mixed model beginning on Tuesday, with K-2 students in the classroom two days per week and grades 3-6 in class one day per week.
“The district will continue to monitor health metrics and will notify families if any changes need to be made to school models,” Szymoniak said. “It is vital that we all do our part to stay healthy and prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
EDIT: This article has been updated with clarification on ODE's metrics, and with the latest case counts from Klamath County.