STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Schools await new guidance from Oregon officials to reduce classroom spacing requirements

The CDC updated its guidance on Friday to cut classroom spacing recommendations in half, but local districts will have to wait on the Oregon Department of Education to make the transition.

Posted: Mar 19, 2021 4:53 PM
Updated: Mar 19, 2021 5:49 PM

MEDFORD, Ore. — On Friday, the CDC delivered news that many school districts have been eagerly awaiting — a recommendation that spacing between students in classrooms can be safely cut in half in many classroom settings. In practice, the change would allow most districts to ditch hybrid learning and return to full-time schedules on school campuses.

However, the CDC update does not spell any immediate change for local districts. The implementation, if it happens before the end of the school year, will come only after receiving the green light from state officials at the Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Department of Education.

In a press conference on Friday, not long after the CDC change was announced, Governor Kate Brown briefly addressed the news — saying that ODE officials are now reviewing the guidance and will consider making changes to the state's existing playbook.

"Nothing changes for us until they make that commitment and decision," said Kirk Kolb, superintendent of the Grants Pass School District. "I would just echo [that we're] committed to bringing all students back every day, to the maximum extent possible."

Administrators at multiple districts across southern Oregon were already advocating for the reduced spacing requirement. The Klamath County School Board resolved to write Governor Brown two weeks ago, and the Grants Pass School Board followed suit last week. On Friday, Medford School District superintendent Dr. Bret Champion revealed that his district has done the same, along with a request for more "local control" in implementing the new guidance.

"Moving from six-feet to three-feet isn't the ultimate goal," Champion said. "The ultimate goal is to safely get all of our students back into our classrooms, so that's what we're hoping to be able to do."

Champion expressed the belief that ODE would change Oregon's guidance to align with the CDC's update in the near future, but admitted that he's been "a bit more wrong than right" in predicting the agency's decisions in the past.

Even once new guidance does come from state education officials, a transition back to full-time learning on campus might not be immediate. Champion said that MSD's facilities staff would be spending spring break bringing extra desks and other furniture back into school buildings — much of it having been removed in the run-up to the school year — although desks won't be placed back into classrooms until ODE delivers its guidance.

The transition to full-time classes with smaller spacing will be relatively easy in Medford's elementary schools, Champion said, and could be accomplished within a matter of days or a single week. But the process will be more difficult and time-consuming at the middle and high school level.

Transportation will also pose a logistical challenge. The Medford School District is down about one-third of its normal bus drivers on the payroll, Champion admitted, and the District is working to recruit more as quickly as possible.

Regardless, preparations for reduced spacing at this stage amount to a guessing game. If updated ODE guidance comes accompanied by metrics attached to county case counts — made "advisory" by Governor Brown at the beginning of 2021 —  it's possible that schools in both Jackson and Josephine counties will struggle to reach full-time classroom learning based on current trends.

"This is an example of how we need our community to pull together to get those county numbers down," said Kolb. "Right now, the number of cases that we've had from individuals who may be a student or staff member from our schools are not getting the virus because they're coming to school, they're getting the virus because of activity outside of our schools — so again, this needs to be a community effort to get us where we need to be."

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 206299

Reported Deaths: 2750
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah40280614
Washington26740248
Marion23370323
Clackamas18872235
Lane13862162
Jackson11518146
Deschutes998682
Umatilla859287
Linn557280
Klamath477478
Yamhill477379
Polk397755
Douglas385881
Malheur361163
Josephine357572
Benton325422
Jefferson236339
Coos216637
Columbia190829
Union149124
Wasco143830
Lincoln142721
Crook128923
Hood River121933
Morrow115316
Clatsop10449
Baker100915
Curry70111
Tillamook6604
Grant5487
Lake4678
Harney4309
Wallowa1945
Gilliam761
Sherman671
Wheeler351
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 3806465

Reported Deaths: 63274
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles124703324444
Riverside3015434625
San Bernardino2991864811
San Diego2815313771
Orange2729225109
Santa Clara1200322187
Kern1107341402
Sacramento1075601730
Fresno1028671722
Alameda895621272
Ventura816091030
San Joaquin746291438
Contra Costa70478810
Stanislaus633871069
Tulare49799849
Monterey43831421
San Mateo42615581
San Francisco37243556
Santa Barbara34593455
Solano33673266
Merced32284477
Sonoma30825323
Imperial28801741
Placer23477299
Kings23185247
San Luis Obispo21421261
Madera16618245
Santa Cruz16232208
Marin14185229
Yolo14141212
Butte12644194
Shasta12630233
El Dorado10363116
Napa1001480
Sutter9650113
Yuba646451
San Benito610963
Lassen578424
Tehama572763
Nevada490375
Humboldt446248
Mendocino430650
Tuolumne420771
Amador373147
Lake356345
Glenn243027
Siskiyou239337
Colusa228418
Calaveras220156
Del Norte14548
Inyo143438
Mono12954
Plumas7366
Modoc5565
Mariposa4657
Trinity4225
Sierra1130
Alpine890
Unassigned400
Medford
Clear
64° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 64°
Brookings
Clear
77° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 78°
Crater Lake
Clear
64° wxIcon
Hi: 77° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 64°
Grants Pass
Partly Cloudy
64° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 64°
Klamath Falls
Clear
67° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 67°
Excessive Heat Warning for Father's Day
KDRV Radar
KDRV Fire Danger
KDRV Weather Cam

Community Events