New state guidelines ease restrictions for rural schools
Tuesday, August 11, 2020
New coronavirus metrics released Tuesday give rural and remote schools more room to reopen based on local conditions.
The updated “Ready Schools, Safe Learners” details less restrictive COVID-19 conditions for small and rural schools statewide and schools in counties with 30,000 or fewer residents. It allows for exceptions to meeting state and county metrics under certain conditions and would apply to Baker, Crook, Curry, Gilliam, Grant, Harney, Hood River, Jefferson, Lake, Morrow, Sherman, Tillamook, Union, Wallowa, Wasco and Wheeler counties.
Exceptions would also be allowed for schools in larger counties in areas where population density is lower than six persons per square mile. The Oregon Department of Education’s standards also take into consideration the location of the school, cases in the school community, and advice from local health authorities.
Kevin Cassidy, a member of the Baker School Board and president of the OSBA Board of Directors, said the new guidance provides a step forward by allowing rural Oregon counties to make good decisions about reopening. He said the keys would be working closely with local health authorities and always keeping foremost the safety of students, staff and communities at large.
Metrics outlined by Gov. Kate Brown and health authorities on July 28 were so restrictive that only one county – Wheeler – would be eligible to reopen schools.
“We were just looking for some adjustments to the standards that recognize the different communities and regions in our state,” Cassidy said. “The one-size-fits-all approach did not seem to be a good fit.”
Cassidy said he appreciated that state officials were willing to reexamine their approach.
He said Baker schools had planned to use a hybrid model to reopen but now will start with schools online for several weeks.
School districts must still look at the overall county and state numbers for cases and positive tests. The Oregon Health Authority’s most recent weekly summary showed the state positivity rate had decreased but, at 5.4%, was still above the state threshold to open schools.
The new guidance (highlighted in green in the linked document below) also revises standards on athletics that are considered medium- to non-contact activities. Full-contact sports and activities (wrestling, football, basketball, hockey and cheerleading) are still prohibited.