PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Following Governor Brown’s announcement that school reopening decisions be made at the local level, the Oregon Department of Education has issued updated guidelines for the return of in-person instruction.
Brown returned the decision for operating schools in-person to the local level on January 1. ODE said the guidance provides local leaders with applicable resources to make informed decisions.
Specifically, the agency has lowered the bar for county COVID-19 rates to make it easier for districts to bring back elementary school students by mid-February.
ODE has previously recommended not bringing back students if the county of which the district is located has a positive test rate of more than 5%. Under the new guidelines, the rate has been raised to 10%. Based on current data, elementary school children in the Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties could be returning next month.
While districts would be allowed to reopen, teachers and school staff have been hesitant about a rushed return.
“It’s hard to understand how you can first set a deadline open schools by February 15, set metrics to say this will allow that to happen and then say that’s based on safety,’ said Elizabeth Thiel, President of the Portland Association of Teachers. “There are a lot of concerns about that.”
Also in the guidelines is that schools would be required to provide testing for the coronavirus for students and staff showing symptoms or for those who have ben exposed to someone with the virus.
Moreover, teacher negotiations surrounding the process of returning is still underway in many regional districts. In addition to exposure concerns, there are several logistical obstacles to satisfy social distancing requirements and capacity limits in classrooms.