All kids, all in: ODE relaxes classroom physical distancing requirements

The Oregon Department of Education has relaxed its social distancing requirements in schools, opening the door for tens of thousands of students to return to the classroom in the coming weeks.

Oregon will now allow 3-feet of physical distancing under certain conditions in schools, aligning with new CDC recommendations announced last week.

The news is what local school districts have been waiting to hear ever since superintendents sent a letter to Gov. Kate Brown and education officials asking for the change.

Gov. Kate Brown said on Friday the state would align itself with the CDC guidelines and that the ODE and Oregon Health Authority were looking into the physical distancing changes.

Before students left on Spring Break on Friday, Bend-La Pine Schools announced plans to have all K-5 students back in-person full time by April 5th and all students in all grades back by April 12th.

But the decision hinged on the ODE making the changes to its Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance.

“This shift will take time to digest, partner with staff, and integrate in many schools and districts,” said ODE Director Colt Gill. “I know our educators have spent countless hours over the last year stretching to implement different learning models and safety protocols. It is my hope you maintain your spring break as a short time for renewal and come together after the break to plan together on how best to incorporate these changes.”

Key updates to Ready Schools, Safe Learners include:

  • Elementary schools must maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students to the maximum extent possible.
  • Middle and High School must maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students to the maximum extent possible, when the county case rate is <200 (green level on the metrics chart in Section 0).
  • Middle and High School must maintain at least 6 feet of physical distance between students to the maximum extent possible, when the county case rate is ≥200 (yellow and red levels on the metrics chart in Section 0).
  • All schools must maintain 6 feet between staff at all times and 6 feet between staff and students to the maximum extent possible.
  • Removal of the 35 sq ft per person requirement and other physical distancing changes are documented in the RSSL guidance.
  • Research Informing Changes in K-12 COVID-19 Guidance

“With the new recommendations for physical distancing from the CDC, I know I join students, parents, and educators across Oregon in welcoming the news that months of scientific research clearly demonstrates the risk of COVID-19 transmission is low in schools,” Brown said in a statement. “As with so many aspects of our lives this year, schools will not be able to return to normal overnight, as districts will need time to work with parents, educators, and staff to create plans at the local level to implement this updated guidance.”

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