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New state guidelines make it easier for smaller schools to reopen

The bar has been lowered for reopening smaller schools this fall as Oregon continues to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Oregon Department of Education announced Tuesday that in counties with fewer than 30,000 residents, schools with 250 students or fewer can reopen if there are no more than 30 COVID-19 cases in the county for the past three weeks. The local public health authority also must find that there is no community spread of COVID-19 in the school’s attendance area.

There is also a statewide reopening exception for school districts with 75 or fewer students. If there isn’t community COVID-19 spread in either the school’s enrollment area, or in nearby communities where many people work or shop, those schools can reopen.

The school reopening metrics that Gov. Kate Brown announced in late July still apply for most Oregon schools in more-populous counties.

For those schools, the county in which a school district is located must meet these standards for three weeks in a row: 10 or fewer COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents and 5% or less positive tests per week, according to Brown’s new mandate. The state must also have 5% or less positive tests as a whole, the new rule states.

Lower school-wide metrics for these large-county schools, public or private, only apply if the school has a population of 250 students or fewer, and if it is eight or more miles away from any public school that serves the same grade levels.

Regardless of student population, schools can conduct in-person learning with small, specific groups of students of no more than 10, but only if there are zero COVID-19 cases amongst school staff or students for two weeks. These groups include students in career and technical education classes, students learning English and students experiencing disabilities.

These students can only be on campus for a maximum of two hours per day and participation in these in-person sessions cannot be mandatory.