The Forest Grove School District central office. Photo: Chas Hundley

OREGON - Governor Kate Brown announced that Oregon school reopening in most cases will be tied directly to COVID-19 case numbers and metrics in Oregon and in each county a school district resides in.

Shortly after, the Forest Grove School District announced that school would begin online only.

To open to in-person learning, a school district must meet these criteria before school officials can opt to open school buildings to students. 

According to Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the Oregon Health Authority state epidemiologist, Oregon’s positive COVID-19 positive tests must be at or below 5% in the prior seven days over a three week period. At the county level, the case count must drop below ten per 100,000 people in the prior seven days, with that decrease being kept down over a three week period. The percent of positive test results must, like the statewide results, be at or below 5% for the same time period. 

“We are not where we need to be to safely reopen schools,” Sidelinger said. “Our current case rates are higher than they need to be and higher than they were in other countries that began to reopen schools.”

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There are three exceptions to the rules if the metrics aren’t met. Schools can provide in-person education for kindergarten to third grade students. 

“Our younger students get the virus at lower rates, get less sick, and are less likely to transmit the virus. And these younger students need access to in-person education to build the literacy and numeracy skills that they need that are critical to their continued learning,” said Sidelinger. 

Remote and rural school districts and private schools with less than 100 students may also allow in-person learning. Schools may also offer some on-site instruction for students with disabilities and to support other educational needs. 

Schools should only prioritize these exceptions if the virus is not actively being spread within the school community, and the case count in the county they’re in is less than 30 per 100,000 people, and if the test positivity is at or less than 5% in their county, Sidelinger said. 

“I am absolutely unwilling to lose an entire school year for any of our kids,” Governor Brown said. “A year that could be foundational to the lifelong opportunities for thousands of Oregon students. I will push, I will cajole, and I will demand nothing but excellence from our districts and our educators.”

This article has been updated with the news that the Forest Grove School District will be starting the school year online.