Schools in many counties — including Clackamas — would not meet the strict Covid-19 standards for reopening that Governor Kate Brown announced in a press conference Tuesday afternoon with officials from the Oregon Health Authority and Department of Education.
In order to resume any in-person learning, even under a hybrid model like the one being planned by Canby School District, a county needs to have fewer than 10 cases per 100,000 people for three weeks straight, with some exceptions for certain very small rural school districts.
“We are taking a cautious and careful approach that protects public health, just as we have over the past five months in responding to this disease,” the governor said. “If we don’t do this right, then the impacts of COVID-19 on students and the very functioning of our schools could deepen existing disparities in opportunity and outcomes for our children, and widen racial and socioeconomic inequality in our society.”
Based on Clackamas County’s population of more than 418,187 people, the county would need to see a rate of 42 cases per week to meet this threshold. Last week, the county recorded 142 new cases, down only slightly from the previous week, which saw 145.
That’s not going to be good enough. With the first day of in-person school in Canby set for Sept. 8, the county would have to show a 70 percent reduction from its current weekly rate by Aug. 17 to meet the criteria as outlined by state officials.
The Covid-19 positivity rate must also be under 5% in the county and the state for three weeks before students can return to in-person classes. The Oregon Health Authority on Monday reported the state’s positivity rate last week was 4.8%, the first time in a month that it had dipped below the 5% mark.
Where in-person classes have resumed, each district must start planning for a transition to comprehensive distance learning in the case of 20 or more Covid-19 cases per 100,000 for seven days or a test positivity of 7.5% or greater for seven days.
School districts must fully transition to fully remote classes if they see 30 or more cases per 100,000 for seven days or a positivity rate of 10% or greater for seven days.
Governor Brown acknowledged the importance of students receiving instruction and support in person — which numerous studies show produces better academic outcomes, while fostering students’ social and emotional well-being and their overall health.
“Both of these things are true: Good schools improve health. And we need to be cautious so schools don’t become places where the virus spreads,” the governor said.
Regardless of when — or whether — classrooms are allowed to reopen in the fall, Governor Brown made clear that she expects districts to be ready to provide a robust system of learning, even from a distance.
“I am absolutely unwilling to lose an entire school year for kids. A year that could be foundational to the lifelong opportunities for thousands of Oregon students,” she said. “I will push. I will cajole. I will demand nothing but excellence from our districts and our educators. But, it is also incumbent on all of us, every community, to take every measure to slow the spread of this disease so that we can get our kids back in schools as soon as possible.”
The Canby School District is among those that have been prepping for a hybridized reopening of classrooms this fall, one that would incorporate two days of in-person instruction with three days of learning from home each week.
However, staff is also developing a fully distance learning program for families who would prefer it, and in the event the county’s Covid-19 numbers do not meet the requirements to safely reopen schools.
End-of-the-session activities for a Canby School District summer school program were canceled this week after a staff member contracted Covid-19. Health authorities told school officials they do not believe there is a high likelihood that other staff or students were exposed.
The governor has put the emphasis on districts to ensure they can provide high-quality education to all students, including students of color, low-income students, students experiencing disabilities, and rural students — all of whom were disproportionately impacted by the rapid implementation of comprehensive distance education last spring.
With more time for school districts to develop a planned response to Covid-19 for the coming school year, she says she expects Oregon schools to address the diverse needs of students and their families and provide the best possible education for every Oregon student.
See the governor’s full remarks during the press conference here: