Distance learning

Deanna Carter's classroom in May Roberts Elementary School on Sept. 11, 2020.


It will still be a while before Malheur County students are able to return to the classroom full time, as Oregon Department of Education and Oregon Health Authority released a revised version of the state’s reopening metrics on Friday afternoon.

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

The new metrics, which took effect immediately on Friday afternoon, allow for some schools statewide to bring students back in the classroom, and also provide a chart which schools can use to determine if they want to be in distance learning, a hybrid model or full in-person instruction.

Rural reopening metrics change again

For low population density, large population counties (which Malheur County falls under) the metrics for reopening have changed again.

For schools to reopen, the total county COVID-19 case rate for the previous 14 days needs to has to be under 100 per 100,000 population. Also, there must be no community spread as determined by the local health department.

For the week before Oct. 18, the most recent available from OHA, Malheur County had a case rate per 100,000 population of 227.9.

Previously, Malheur County needed to have a three-week case count of fewer than 30 (with fewer than half of those coming in the final week of the period) and a test positivity rate at 5% or lower.

The test positivity rate has been taken out of the metrics for Malheur County, which has been between 20-40% since June (23.5% on Oct. 18).

Adrian School District Superintendent Kevin Purnell and Ontario School District Public Relations and Communications Director Taryn Smith agreed that the change in the test positivity requirement has some to do with state equity (Malheur County is the poorest county in the state and has had only 8,326 tests done, as opposed to 800,002 tests done statewide), but there are also other considerations.

“There’s still a stigma of getting tested,” Purnell said. “A lot of people think that if I get tested, I shut down my cohort or I shut down the school. And some people have pride about it.”

Statewide, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said that she expects the new guidance will allow upwards of 130,000 students to return to in-person instruction. Students in any grade will be able to attend class in Baker, Clasp, Curry, Gillam, Grant, Hood River, Jefferson, Josephine, Klamath, Lake, Lincoln, Sherman, Tillamook, Union and Wheeler counties.

During Friday’s press conference announcing the new metrics, ODE Director Colt Gill said there are currently about 50,000 students currently taking in-person classes statewide with “little transmission” coming from those schools.

Cohort size

One thing that is changing for all schools statewide is a new rule for cohort sizes. The new guidance allows cohorts to be up to 20 students, including for limited in-person instruction. Previously that number was 10.

Students are still restricted to two cohorts in any given week and staff members cannot interact with more than three cohorts in a given day and five in a week.

What now?

For Adrian School District, the new guidance was disappointing. During an Oct. 8 meeting of the Adrian School District Board of Directors, Dustin Martinsen, board member Jake Speelmon’s legal counsel of Vale-based law firm Butler & Looney PC, gave an update on the board’s pending lawsuit against leaders of OHA and ODE.

The board’s lawsuit was filed on Sept. 17, naming Gill and Patrick Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, demanding that the district be able to allow students to return to the classroom, claiming “if the children are not immediately returned to in-person instruction, immediate and irreparable harm will be caused to the school district’s resources,” and “if the children are not immediately returned to in-person instruction, immediate and irreparable harm will be incurred by the students in the form of reduced quality of instruction.”

During the meeting, Martinsen said that he had been in discussion with the state’s legal counsel and was hearing that the state’s new metrics might alleviate the board’s frustrations.

“Ease up on the lawsuit, something’s coming,” Martinsen said he was told from the state’s legal team.

But the new metrics from the state will not allow Adrian School District to reopen the school.

“We were hoping for better news,” Purnell said. “We feel that we can manage it all with the masks and social distancing and having the kids in the school for eight hours a day. We thought we were getting better news. But we didn’t.”

On Friday afternoon, Speelmon said he will be in contact with his legal counsel and the superintendent, but believes that the lawsuit will have to move forward.

During the Oct. 8 meeting, the School Board and the superintendent signed a resolution document, which declares that the district would like the state to allow them to return to in-person instruction as long as the number of COVID-19 cases in Adrian stay low and the school adheres to the reopening blueprint that the school submitted late in the summer.

The resolution claims that there are a lot of students who do not have “adequate means to attend remote instruction classes, reports of parents who are missing significant work to ensure their children are attending remote education sessions and even more by reports of children whose parents are not able to stay home with them and assist them with attending remote education sessions, reports by students that they are not being effectively taught, and reports by teachers that the remote-education system is not effectively imparting necessary knowledge to their students. We are also alarmed by reports of delinquency that seem to be rising as the children are not in a supervised setting for much of the day and by the fact that there has been such a precipitous drop in child abuse reporting.”

Nik Streng is the sports reporter for the Argus Observer. He graduated from the University of Oregon in 2015 with a master's degree in journalism, after graduating from Pacific University in 2013 with a degree in creative writing.

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