By TED TAYLOR
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
Bend’s state representative and the chairwoman of the Bend-La Pine school board say if the Oregon Health Authority used more current and accurate population figures, Deschutes County would meet COVID metrics and students could return to the classroom.
Rep. Cheri Helt and Chairwoman Carrie Douglass sent a letter to Gov. Kate Brown Wednesday asking her to take immediate action so the district can bring back students in grades K-3.
The letter was also sent to OHA Director Patrick Allen and Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill.
“Using outdated population figures that do not account for Bend and Deschutes County’s rapid growth, prevents our students from returning to school,” the letter said.
The metrics Oregon school districts must meet to return kids to the classroom are based on county COVID cases per 100,000 residents.
To open schools for kids in grades K-3, counties need to have 30 or fewer cases per 100,000 residents, a metric Deschutes County has failed to meet two of the last three weeks.
Currently, the OHA uses Portland State University Population Research Center estimates for 2019, which shows Deschutes County’s population at 193,000.
Helt and Douglass argue those figures are outdated considering Bend is growing by around 3.8% each year. They also cite a recent report from the personal-finance website WalletHub which said Bend was the third fastest-growing city in the U.S.
They urge Brown and health officials to use more recent figures – the 2019 U.S. Census estimates published earlier this year shows Deschutes County’s population at 197,692.
“We kindly request any metrics to monitor COVID-19 by public health use our current population numbers so we have accurate data,” the letter states.
Douglass announced the letter in a Facebook post.
“Equitable learning is not possible as long as young students are learning virtually,” Douglass wrote. “We must get our kids back to school, safely.”
The letter to Brown lays out the reasons students need to get back into the classroom, but it also says Bend-La Pine Schools is ready for the transition.
“Our school board, administrative staff, teachers, and classified staff have developed a plan to reunite our teachers, staff and students safely and equitably – the authority to make these decisions should be returned to our communities and local officials,” the letter said.
Earlier this week Crook County asked the ODE for a waiver from the metrics because a small spike in cases there might force 4-12th graders back to online learning after a couple of weeks of hybrid, in-person instruction.
You can read the full letter to the governor below:School Metrics Letter, Gov. Brown