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State announces COVID-19 metrics for school openings

Under the new rules released by the state on Tuesday, schools in Oregon would remain closed.

Gov. Kate Brown and state epidemiologist Dean Sidelinger released uniform metrics for schools to use as guideposts for re-opening. The positive rate of the virus statewide must be at or below 5% the proceeding seven days for three weeks before schools can open. Additionally, case levels at the county level have to drop below 10 cases per 100,000 residents for the same time frame. Brown noted that there would be exceptions for students to learn in-person under these news as well, specifically younger children.

Kindergarten through third grade can be offered in-person classes if the virus isn't actively circulating in the community, there are less than 30 cases per 100,000 residents in the county and they follow Oregon Department of Education guidance. Students with disabilities can also be offered in-person classes.

But under the current metric requirements, many counties wouldn't be able to open schools to most students and the statewide positive rate would be prohibitive as well.

"Today in Oregon, we are not where we need to be to open schools," Sidelinger said.

However, Brown said local districts will continue to make local decisions and did not mandate schools closed in the fall. Rather, she said, her decision is based on science and advice of medical and health experts. She also announced she would be releasing an additional $28 million to schools across the state to contend with the additional costs of COVID-19 pertaining to internet access, online learning and teacher training.

Director of the Oregon Department of Education, Colt Gill said the priority was to bring students back to school buildings and that the department's previous guidance was based on previous data in May that showed a slow spread of COVID-19 before most communities entered Phase 2.

He reaffirmed that the return to school is a local decision using the guidance set by the state including case counts and community spread.

"Based on today's COVID-19 statistics, many schools are preparing to re-open with comprehensive distance learning," he said.

Corvallis School District announced Monday that it would re-open as a distance learning only district for the first six weeks of instruction. Greater Albany Public Schools is still preparing to allow students to choose a hybrid model that would see them engage in some in-person instruction.

Brown said decisions concerning schools will continue to be made through an equity lens and with the backing of science.

"Let me be really clear, I am absolutely unwilling to lose an entire school year for any of our kids," she said, but noted the dangers of students bringing the virus back to vulnerable members of their household.

ODE is expected to issue another update on the upcoming school year on Aug. 11.

File photo - A student takes notes during a welding class at South Medford High School.