Following Governor Kate Brown’s announcement Dec. 23, stating that Oregon’s statewide COVID-19 metrics would no longer be in effect, school districts have been tasked with making their own judgement on when students would be allowed back in classrooms.
In Lincoln County, the decision was made this week by Lincoln County School District (LCSD) and Superintendent Karen Gray, to bring some students back in class starting Feb. 1.
Before winter break, LCSD announced that its schools would be moving all students back to Comprehensive Distance Learning at the start of the new year due to a surge in coronavirus cases in late November/early December. Now, with Lincoln County shifting from ‘Extreme Risk’ to ‘High Risk’ in Oregon’s COVID-19 framework, LCSD feels comfortable enough to start bringing students back to school.
“Our numbers for the last two weeks were 217.4 (cases) per 100,000 (people),” Gray said. ‘In the two-week period before this, we were at 174 (cases), which is less than the 200 per 100,000 required for Extreme Risk so we were downgraded to High Risk.
“As you can see, our numbers are back up and still concerning. We have a lot of work to do to get our numbers down and create a safer community in which to bring staff and students back.”
On Monday, Jan. 4, Gray said Oregon’s superintendents met with the Governor about the new “advisory” status of the school metrics.
“Governor Brown heard three important requests from us: a) Working with our labor unions to ensure that bringing students back to school is a top priority, b) establishing a timeline for educators to receive the COVID vaccine, and c) working with Oregon Health Authority to move aside roadblocks to re-opening,” Gray said.
Gov. Brown said in December that school districts should make a goal to bring all Oregon students back to a model of in-person instruction by Feb. 15. To meet that benchmark, LCSD is beginning a staggered reopening starting with a Hybrid model of K-6 students starting Feb. 1. This Hybrid model includes two days per week of full-day in person school and three days per week of online learning. The cohorts are Monday/Thursday and Tuesday/Friday with online schooling on Wednesday for students.
The following week, starting Feb. 8, LCSD plans to bring back grades 7-12 in a Hybrid model with the option for principals to bring kids back the week before February 8 for orientation for either one or two days. More detailed information will be coming out specifically about that plan.
“Our hope is that we get a plan for COVID vaccinations and that we can all get them before February 1. I will be pushing hard for this. Regardless, we will still be bringing students back,” Gray said. “We had students K-3 without vaccines safely and we would have had them all back by December 18 except that Lincoln County had that awful surge which, sadly, may happen again post-holiday break. Let’s hope not.
“What is clear is that COVID is not being spread in our schools but in our community. This is true across the nation. Many other states have children back already in person and our Governor is committed to having Oregon’s students back in school, too.”
Gray said that on Jan. 19 the Gov. Brown is expected to give Oregonians another health and safety update. LCSD is not planning to make any changes to their plan until then, if any at all.
“Our plan is to bring students back in early February,” Gray said. “The caveat to this is that if things go really badly for the county and something else comes out on Jan. 19, we will have to address that. Having said that, our plan moving forward is to bring students back in early February. The district will be spending the next four weeks planning for K-12 Hybrid.”