January 20, 2021
Dear CSD Community,
Yesterday, the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) and the Oregon Health Association announced some changes that impact our ability to bring back Creswell students safely for on-site in-person learning. I also want you to know that these changes are being processed by state and district legal advisors in regards to recent passage of HB 4402 COVID-19 legal liability protection and District’s COVID-19 limited liability insurance coverage. I will do my best to share what I know about these new changes.
Since the beginning of the pandemic March 2020, we have diligently followed the Governor’s Executive Orders, ODE and OHA guidance, rules and directives with full confidence in their expertise in the field of public health and safety and education institutional guidance.
What did ODE change?
- The State has changed the advisory health metrics for on-site in-person learning. Under the previous health metrics that expired yesterday, positive COVID-19 cases in Lane County had to drop below 100 per 100,000 residents (during the previous two-week period) to begin on-site in-person learning. Now, ODE will use new advisory metrics, based on Harvard Global Health Institute guidelines:
- If over 350 cases per 100,000 (during the previous two-week period): No in-person instruction
- If 200 – 350 cases per 100,000 (during the previous two-week period): Focus on elementary in-person instruction
- If 50 – 199 cases per 100,000 (during the previous two-week period): Expand in-person instruction beyond elementary
- If under 50 cases per 100,000 (during the previous two-week period): All in-person instruction
At this time, the current case count per 100,000 in Lane County is 291, last week 284, and the week prior 250.
What did ODE not change?
- ODE did NOT change the mandatory social distancing requirement as described in the Ready School Safe Learners guidance. That means that each student still must have a “space bubble” of 35 square feet.
- ODE did NOT change the mandatory cohort requirements. That means that the maximum number of students in a cohort is 20, a student may not be in more than 2 cohorts per day and a student may not have contact with more than 100 people per week. These requirements are our biggest barriers to resuming in-person learning for our middle and high school students.
What else do we know?
- The Governor has announced that educators will begin to receive the vaccine, starting on January 25. CSD has been collaborating with Lane County Public Health Department and local health providers on how to roll out those vaccines to our 190 employees as quickly and efficiently as possible. However, this situation is very fluid.
Addressing some misconceptions
- Understandably, some parents are frustrated when they see other school districts around the country open to full in-person instruction when CSD is not. It’s important to recognize that Oregon has more stringent mandatory safety protocols in place than do other states. It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison.
- Some parents also are frustrated to see other school districts in Oregon announcing their intentions to reopen to on-site in-person learning in some form i.e., Limited In-person Learning, Hybrid Learning, etc. Please realize that each district has unique circumstances with COVID-19 spread in their school district community, their ability to address all ODE in-person learning protocol requirements, availability of staff for in-person instruction, training for all staff on the 160 OHA and ODE protocols and the new requirement for on-site COVID-19 testing to be available by March 1. Again, it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison.
- One issue that has been underreported to communities by ODE centers on liability. If a school district elects to begin in-person learning without meeting the advisory health metrics, the district will no longer have the liability protection that was recently extended by the Oregon Legislature and HB 4402. In short and to the point, if and when anyone were to become sick (or worse) from COVID-19 in relation to district activities, a district could face expensive lawsuits without legal lability protection and insurance coverage for damages. Most districts, including ours, cannot afford to take on that level of risk. Any legal settlements would directly impact the viability of the district and future funding for students.
Our district leadership team just learned of these changes (and many others) since yesterday. Please allow our team an opportunity to thoughtfully consider the latest guidance from ODE as they revise the required operational Blueprints for on-site in-person learning. We hope to have more information and timelines for you in the coming weeks or even days, due to the rapidly changing guidance. Meanwhile, we will continue with sports conditioning and workouts at CHS (soon beginning at CMS), and on-site limited in-person learning for small cohorts that began this week. As we become more efficient with COVID-19 protocols and on-site learning requirements, we will expand with additional phases of limited in-person learning cohorts for on-site learning, as allowed by the health metrics.
Thank you for your patience and continued support as our partners in education!
Mike Johnson, Superintendent
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