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Public Health Indicators Will Guide School Re-Starts This Fall

Tiffany Eckert

The Oregon Department of Education, in tandem with the Oregon Health Authority and the governor’s office, released some guidance Tuesday for how and when schools may start back up this Fall.  

State guidance to re-open schools is based on public health indicators. Lane County’s Jason Davis said that means keeping case numbers low or “flattening the curve.”

“The good news is we’ve already had two what I would call ‘micro-flats,’” said Davis. “So we had one back in the early Spring when where we had a bunch of cases in March and then we sort of flattened out. We had the same thing happen through June and early July and now we’re starting to flatten a little bit.”

It's far too early to say the COVID curve has flattened, Davis insisted.  Meanwhile, Eugene 4-J, Lane County’s largest school district, provided an update for its ‘return to learning’ framework.

The 4-J school year is expected to begin September 14th with online learning for all students. The district wrote that on-site and hybrid models, will be options only "when public health conditions allow."

UPDATE from the Eugene 4-J District website:

Update on Returning to Learning

Published: JULY 24, 2020

School will start online in September • School year will be a hybrid of online and on-site learning, when public health conditions allow

Información en español sigue

Thank you for your continued patience as our state and school districts navigate the nuances of returning to learning in the midst of this global pandemic. We know that families are trying to plan for the fall, as are we in Eugene School District 4J.

The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) released new guidance this week about the 2020–21 school year. A few key changes:

• Face coverings will be required for all students (K–12) as well as staff, under the new guidance.

• Total in-school student combined cohort size will be limited to 100 or less, meaning that the total number of students and adults a student regularly is in contact with at school (e.g. 3rd grade classroom + small group reading intervention + recess group + lunch group) adds up to no more than 100 people. Individual cohorts—the people a student is in an area with at one time—will be much smaller than 100.

• Additional guidance about public health criteria and metrics to guide when students may return to school on-site will be shared in the coming days or weeks. The Oregon Department of Education, in conjunction with health authorities, will provide a set of “guideposts, protocols and public health indicators” that will help school districts determine when to open school buildings to in-person instruction

Changes are possible

We are making our best effort to plan for a safe return to learning, under changing public health conditions and state guidance. While we don’t yet know what the new guidance will be, we recognize that it may have important impacts on our plan to return to learning this fall.

Our framework for returning to learning has the school year starting with online learning for all students on September 14, some on-site school days for kindergarten and first grade in the first weeks of school (if possible), and all students beginning some on-site instruction in a hybrid alternating-week model as early as mid-October, if public health conditions allow.

This plan may be altered or delayed by the new state guidance to come. We want families to be aware of this so that you can be prepared for the possibility of all students attending school online for potentially longer than the first four weeks, based on the new metrics and local public health indicators.

When the new guidelines become available, we will share them with our community, along with information about what this means for our plan for the school year.

Choices for families

We know that many families are eager to have students back in school buildings as soon as possible. We understand how challenging it is for families to have their children at home and not in school buildings, and are sorry that the pandemic is creating this difficulty. The district is not able to provide childcare, but we know that many local organizations are looking to offer more childcare options for families. We will share information about local childcare options as possible.

We know that many other families and staff have questions or reservations about students returning to school in-person in the fall, even with careful health and safety measures and only half the usual number of students attending on-site at a time.

In Eugene School District 4J we are also carefully considering all of these factors, working to provide for the health and safety of all of our staff and students, and seeking to provide options for families to make the choice that is right for them.

Regardless of what decisions are made about on-site instruction, families have the option to select all-online learning through the Eugene Online Academy—please complete the interest form by August 10, to help us ensure enough teachers are assigned to support all students who choose the online option.

What comes next

We will keep families informed as we learn more and as detailed planning progresses. We will be scheduling virtual town halls for information, questions and feedback in August. Spanish and ASL interpretation will be available.

The health, safety and wellbeing of your students, our staff, and our community remain at the center of all our decision making. Thank you for entrusting us with the care and education of your children. They are why we educators do what we do.

With gratitude,

– Cydney Vandercar
Interim Superintendent
Eugene School District 4J 

Tiffany joined the KLCC News team in 2007. She studied journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia and worked in a variety of media including television, technical writing, photography and daily print news before moving to the Pacific Northwest.
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