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What's with all the 'cohort' talk?

While reading stories about students heading back to school, I keep coming across the word “cohort.” I know what it means in general, but is there a specific use for the term as applied to school kids?

— Archie

The short answer to this question is a simple “no,” because the word “cohort” had been used by public educators for years as the go-to term for groups of students long before COVID-19 came along.

There’s the male cohort, the free-and-reduced lunch cohort, the Ever English Learners cohort, and so on.

The word has taken on greater meaning this school year because students are locked into specific cohorts to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Oregon’s Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance includes two pages that break down the concept, plus a helpful breakout box that states, “Cohorting is a significant strategy to reduce COVID-19 spread. Cohorting refers to a consistent group of students that stays together for a significant portion of the school day.”

Cohorting is important, the RSSL guidance explains, because it limits the number of exposed people when a case is identified, it allows the school to quickly identify exposed individuals and it minimizes school-wide disruptions.

Among other regulations, schools are required to limit cohort sizes to allow for “efficient contact tracing,” and students cannot be part of any single cohort or part of multiple cohorts that exceed 100 people within the educational week.

A cohort size of 24 to 36 is recommended, but not required.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.