Governor Announces Updates to School Metrics; Oregon Dept. of Education Releases Updated Metrics, Safety Reminders

EDITOR’S NOTE:  With the new metrics, and if cases don’t continue to increase, and the county continues to meet metrics, Tillamook County schools are in the “eligible to reopen K-12” category.  Each school district has announced plans to stay with distance learning through December, with tentative plans for some hybrid models.  As the new guidance was just released this morning and there are over 90 pages, school districts are still reviewing and exploring options. Watch for more information from individual school districts over the next few weeks.  And again, re-opening depends upon community cases staying low (or better yet at zero.)  If there were ever an example of “it takes a village” – this is it.  If we want schools to reopen, we need compliance with mask-wearing, hand-washing, physical distancing and no gatherings outside of family/household members.  
Today, we again set a record for the “most cases” since the start of the pandemic (600 cases reported today – and 1 new case in Tillamook County.)  The count is headed in the wrong direction as we are heading into flu and cold season.  Do your part – stay healthy, stay safe.

Close to 130,000 students in districts eligible to return to classrooms with health and safety measures in place 

(Portland, OR) — Governor Kate Brown today announced updates to Oregon’s school metrics that will allow more students to return to classroom instruction with health and safety measures in place. The updated metrics reflect CDC guidance and lessons learned from school districts across the country for best practices to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in schools.

“Our updated metrics are based on the latest COVID-19 studies and data, are aligned with CDC recommendations, and bring Oregon in sync with the standards of other states like California,” said Governor Brown. “They also help us meet our priority of returning students to in-person instruction. These metrics still place a very high bar for low case counts to open schools, while at the same time providing more flexibility for our younger students.”

With COVID-19 set to be present in Oregon communities for the foreseeable future, Governor Brown reiterated her priority of returning students as safely as possible to Oregon schools: “Schools do so much more than teach and inspire our kids. They make sure students who are hungry receive warm and nutritious meals. They are places that provide care for students and identify those who are at risk or in need. They help provide support for students’ mental health and well-being.

“Schools are at the center of it all: the personnel, teachers, nurses, counselors, librarians, and education support professionals who, every day, build the personal, individual connections with students that are so crucial to their lifelong success.”

The Oregon Department of Education today also released an update to its Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance, which outlines strict health and safety protocols to lower the risk of COVID-19 infection among students, parents, educators, and support staff.
Governor Brown’s full remarks are available here.
A link to Governor Brown’s press conference is available here.

ODE Releases Updated School Metrics And Safety Reminders

Metrics based on latest COVID-19 studies and data, align to CDC recommendations and help Oregon meet its priority to return students to in-person instruction. 

(Salem, Ore.) – As part of its planned guidance and metrics review process, the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) is releasing an update to the Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance, including updated metrics for returning to in-person instruction. The metrics are based on the latest COVID-19 studies and data, align to CDC recommendations, are in line with standards in other states like California and help Oregon meet its priority to return students to in-person instruction.

Since Oregon’s metrics were originally issued in August, more data has become available from school districts across the country. ODE worked with the Oregon Health Authority to establish when students can return to the classroom while still mitigating the risk of COVID-19 spread.

A key lesson from the review of national school data is that Oregon school districts can help protect student and staff health and well-being during in-person instruction when community spread is sufficiently low and when school districts strictly adhere to the health and safety protocols now in place in Oregon.

“Today we are sharing scheduled updates to our metrics for schools. Guided by data, these metrics offer an intentional and measured approach to returning to in-person instruction while recognizing the importance of meeting our kids’ academic needs—and allow for in-person instruction in places of our state where the risk of COVID-19 is lower. They also set a North Star for the rest of the state to work toward,” said ODE Director Colt Gill. “We all know that in-person instruction provides our children and families with more than access to an equitable education. Schools are a center of services to students and families, offering nutritious meals, access to social-emotional and mental health supports, as well as physical health services.”

Key changes to the metrics include:

  • A clear set of reachable targets for communities to strive for, with a North Star of returning Oregon students to in-person instruction.
  • Acknowledgement that Oregon’s Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance’s strong public health protocols in structured settings like schools, can greatly reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19.
  • Additional time for schools to transition between in-person and distance learning models.
  • Increased access to in-person instruction at the elementary level.
  • A two Week “Look Back” at the Metrics Data rather than one week at a time over a three week period.
  • Removes State Positivity Rate in favor of county positivity rates.

ODE and the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) were among the very first states to create metrics for returning to in-person instruction in early August. At that time they were based in large part on successes seen in other countries, as school was not in session in the U.S. Later, exceptions were added to make a return to in-person instruction possible for more students, where there was lower risk of COVID-19 transmission. When the metrics were first released, further review was announced, and now with additional studies and data on-hand the metrics are being revised to permit more in-person instruction while continuing to ensure that local conditions guide the process. As we learn more about the progression of COVID-19 in Oregon, the effectiveness of future vaccines and other mitigation efforts, and gain more information about the transmission of COVID-19 in structured settings like schools, ODE and OHA are committed to reviewing the metrics again in the coming weeks.

The metrics updates take effect immediately and, based on this week’s data points, potentially allow close to 130,000 students to return to some in-person instruction. The guidance recommends that schools consider both equity and a methodical and cautious approach at the beginning that return a portion of the school population first and then add more students on-site over time. This will allow schools to build new safety routines, stabilize cohorts, and avoid sudden, disruptive transitions back to Comprehensive Distance Learning due to quarantine or isolation.

Safety Reminders

Schools are structured settings where we can reduce risk of COVID-19 transmission through key practices. Oregon’s Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance requires schools to comply with specific guidelines on:

  • Physical distancing
  • Face coverings
  • Hand hygiene
  • Cohorting
  • Cleaning and disinfecting
  • Airflow and ventilation
  • And, effective screening, and responses to cases with quick access to testing and implementing isolation and quarantining

School safety and other COVID-19 school related questions can be answered by emailing ODECOVID19@ode.state.or.us.

If you believe a school is not in compliance with the safety requirements you can file a named or confidential complaint with Oregon OSHA at 1-833-604-0884 or online at: https://osha.oregon.gov/workers/Pages/index.aspx.

“These metrics depend on the public doing its part to reduce Oregon’s case rates so that all of our children can return to in-person instruction,” Gill said. “Oregonians can reduce spread and send our kids back to school by wearing a face covering, maintaining distance, washing hands frequently, and avoiding group gatherings.”

Other changes to the Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance include:

  • Aligning with the most recent face covering requirements from Oregon Health Authority (Pages 32-35).
  • Adding a link to the Tribal Consultation Toolkit (Page 77).
  • An exclusion guide (30).
  • Aligning to recent CDC changes to “close contact” definition (29).

Health and Education Leaders Weigh In

Video: Oregon Health Authority’s Dr. Tom Jeanne talks about revisions to school metrics.

Video: Salem-Keizer School District Superintendent Christy Perry talks about the importance of In-person instruction.