Return to online learning possible after Crook Co. COVID spike; district asks for waiver

A small spike in COVID cases last week has Crook County 4th-12th graders at risk of being forced to leave the classroom and return to online learning.

But Superintendent Sara Johnson has asked the state Department of Education to waive last week’s COVID numbers, saying “it’s important to look beyond the numbers and find out what’s really going on.”

Crook County reported 11 new cases last week (46.9 cases per 100,000 residents) which exceeds the state’s weekly metrics for Crook County schools.

Spokesman Jason Carr said the decision to ask for the waiver was made after meeting with officials from the Crook County Health Department and learning the following about last week’s cases:

  • The 11 cases last week were all identified, traced, and confined
  • More than half of the cases occurred within a defined group, and testing is complete
  • There is no community spread
  • No COVID-19 cases have originated from Crook County schools

“This district is extremely diligent about following the guidelines to make sure we stay safe so we can stay open,” Johnson said. “Based on feedback from local public health officials, none of the cases are connected to our schools, so we don’t believe our students should be forced back to distance learning.”

Johnson sent a letter to ODE Director Colt Gill on Tuesday.

K-3 students returned to full-time, in-person instruction on September 8th; kids in grades 4-12 returned to a hybrid, rotating schedule on October 5th after meeting state metrics.

Crook County Middle School has been running after-school sports camps, and Crook County High School successfully completed a season of spring sports last week. No new cases have originated from the schools or these sporting events.

To keep students in grades 4-12 in school, Crook County must meet the following metrics each week for two weeks in a row:

  • 7 cases or less
  • 30 cases or less per 100,000
  • County Test Positivity Rate of 10% or less

Carr said if Crook County reports eight or more cases this week, Johnson will be forced to announce that grades 4-12 must return to Comprehensive Distance Learning by Nov. 2nd.

The OHA’s weekly tally runs from Sunday-Saturday. Crook County has already reported six cases this week as of Wednesday.

Grades K-3 and the district’s small and rural schools – Paulina, Brothers, Steins Pillar, and the Hybrid Learning Campus at Pioneer – would all continue with in-person instruction based on state exceptions.

“We are hoping that ODE and the state of Oregon open a conversation about the metrics and consider making thoughtful adjustments,” Johnson said. “If we have to close down for grades 4-12, we might be looking at early spring before school can resume given how high the threshold is for returning. That just doesn’t make sense when cases can be identified and confined and there’s no existing threat to our schools.”

Johnson said she hoped to hear back from the ODE this week so she can get the information to families and district staff as soon as possible.

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