By TED TAYLOR
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
Another weekly spike in Deschutes County COVID cases means most area students won’t return to the classroom until at least the third week in October.
“Today, I am writing to share disheartening news,” Bend-La Pine Interim Superintendent Lora Nordquist said in an email to parents. “We have been tracking Oregon Health Authority’s daily case reports for Deschutes County, unfortunately, it appears as if Deschutes County has not met the metric guidelines for K-3 return to in-person learning.”
Deschutes County reported 70 new COVID cases last week and 36.3 cases per 100,000 people. That number is above the 30/100,000 threshold for being able to bring kids back in grades K-3.
The news comes as the Redmond and Bend-La Pine school districts prepped parents and students for a return to class on a limited basis October 5th.
In mid-September, as COVID cases declined, both districts announced plans for a hybrid model in which half of the students would attend one day with the other half attending the next day.
Redmond planned to bring all K-3 kids back to class full time after a two-week transition period.
“The clock, in a word, has reset, and we must now start at the beginning and meet the health metric guidelines for three straight weeks,” Nordquist said. “This means the earliest we could potentially begin the transition to hybrid/balanced learning for K-3 is Oct. 26. We remain committed to reopening for in-person learning as soon as the metrics allow us to do so.”
An October start, though, is already looking less likely.
Deschutes County has reported 28 new COVID cases just in the last two days. Another spike this week would push the start of school into November.
Morgan Emerson, a spokeswoman with Deschutes County Health, said the contact tracing team is working hard to track and stop the spread of the virus.
She said the community needs to step up to get kids back into the classroom.
“We’ve seen a significant increase in cases compared to what we were seeing in weeks prior, and a lot of that is due to a few key areas,” she said. “And that’s social gatherings, travel, and workplace outbreaks as well.”
Going back to early August, Deschutes County had met the reopening metrics for six straight weeks, even as numbers doubled two weeks ago.
But last week’s spike quickly let the air out of the sails of many parents, students, and teachers who hoped to get back to some sense of normalcy in the classroom.
In Sisters, second and third-grade students returned to the classroom Monday morning with K-1 students planning to return on Tuesday.
And because they started school, they’ll be able to continue in-person instruction unless there’s an outbreak linked to the school or in the Sisters community.
The Redmond School District sent a letter to parents late Monday night.
“This is not what any of us want to hear as our district and school teams have been preparing and planning for the hopeful return of our students in K-3,” it read. “As a reminder, our district is required to follow the guidelines established by the Oregon Department of Education, in consultation with the Oregon Health Authority. We know that this is challenging and uncertain for our students, families and team members. But we are here to support each of you as we continue our hopeful path for the return for our students to on-site learning.”
Bend-La Pine officials had planned a virtual town hall Monday night to talk about the metrics and plans for returning but announced they would reschedule it to closer to when kids might return to class.
“Thank you for your continued partnership as we continue to navigate these challenging times,” Nordquist said. “This is not what anyone wanted for this year. Please know I am thinking about you and your families every day.”