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Oregon Department of Education announced changes to metrics and guidance for returning to in-person instruction

On Tuesday, Jan. 19, the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) announced some changes that impact HRCSD’s ability to return students to in-person instruction. Below are questions that share information about these changes. 

What did ODE change?

The state changed the advisory health metrics for returning students to in-person instruction. Under the previous health metrics, positive COVID-19 cases in Hood River County had to drop below 45 cases total (during the previous two-week period) to begin in-person instruction. Now, ODE will use new advisory metrics, based on Harvard Global Health Institute guidelines:

  • If more than 90 cases (during the previous two-week period): No in-person instruction
  • If between 60-90 cases (during the previous two-week period): Focus on elementary in-person instruction
  • If between 30-60 cases (during the previous two-week period): Expand in-person instruction beyond elementary
  • If less than 30 cases (during the previous two-week period): All in-person instruction

According to data shared this week, the current case count in Hood River County is 108.

What did ODE not change?

  • ODE did not change the mandatory physical distancing requirement as described in the Ready School, Safe Learners guidance. Each student still must have a “space bubble” of 35 square feet. This requirement is a barrier to resuming in-person instruction for all elementary students and secondary students given space limitations within school buildings. 
  • ODE did not change the mandatory cohort requirement. A student may not have contact with more than 100 people per week. This requirement is a significant barrier to resuming in-person instruction for secondary students within HRCSD. 

What else does HRCSD know?

  • Governor Brown announced that educators will begin to receive the vaccine, starting on January 25. HRCSD is collaborating with the Hood River County Health Department and local health providers on offering those vaccines to HRCSD employees as efficiently as possible. 
  • Another important issue is surrounding liability. If a school district elects to begin in-person instruction without meeting the advisory health metrics, the school district may no longer have the liability protection that was recently extended by the Oregon Legislature. If and when anyone were to become sick (or worse) from COVID-19, a school district could face expensive lawsuits. Most school districts, including HRCSD, cannot afford to take on that level of risk. Any legal settlements would directly impact future funding for students.

Upcoming information regarding plans to reopen schools

  • HRCSD administration just learned of these changes (and many others) this week. The school district administration is continuing to thoughtfully consider the latest guidance from ODE. More information will be provided next week regarding COVID-19 in Hood River County and plans for reopening schools.