KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — At the beginning of November, both the Klamath County School District and Klamath Falls City Schools gave the green light to bring more students back into classrooms on a hybrid model.
The transition became possible after Governor Kate Brown and state education officials released new, more relaxed coronavirus metrics for schools — removing the statewide test positivity requirement and allowing local districts more flexibility. But a county-level metric remained, now measured in two-week increments.
For many Oregon counties with relatively low case rates, Klamath included, this meant that a return to school from grades above K-3 was finally possible. But with a statewide surge in cases now reaching practically everywhere, that brief respite is at an end.
Superintendent of Klamath Falls City Schools, Paul Hillyer, sent out a letter to families and staff on Friday, noting that Klamath County is now in the "red zone" by exceeding 200 cases per 100,000 over the past two weeks.
"This means we must return all students to comprehensive distance learning on Monday, November 20," Hillyer wrote. "In order to return grades K-6 to in-person learning, the county would need to reduce new case numbers over the next two weeks and bring our status down to the yellow or green zone."
The earliest that this could happen, Hillyer noted, would be the week of December 7. Grades 7-12 would not be able to see in-person learning until four weeks after grades K-6.
A similar statement came from Klamath County School District Superintendent Glen Szymoniak, leading with the message his district received from Klamath County Public Health.
“It is with disappointment that I find myself writing this email tonight," wrote KCPH assistant director Jessica Dale. "As of close of business today (Nov. 19), we had received enough positive test results for this week to know that when numbers post for the two week lookback on November 23, our rates will exceed 200 per 100,000. As a result, schools will need to return to comprehensive distance learning on Monday November 30, 2020.
"While the return to hybrid learning models for expanded grade levels was short lived this time around, it was undoubtedly beneficial for both the schools and the students. It is such a pleasure to work with all of you and your staff as we continue to pursue the safe return of in person education in Klamath County."
Dale note that schools with K-3 in-person learning prior to the transition, or small rural and remote schools, might be able to continue under those models, depending on the outcome of case investigations for some of the latest cases.
KCSD is on a break next week for the Thanksgiving holiday, so there will be no immediate change on Monday. But presumably, due to the two-week periods noted in by KFSD's Hillyer, it will be at least another full week before many students could possibly return to in-person learning.