PORTLAND — Oregon has removed a 100-person cap on the number of individual contacts students can have per week in a return to in-person classes, a move that should make bringing older students back for in-person learning less of a challenge for school districts.
The revised guidance for COVID-19 in-person learning protocols released Monday did not make any changes to the amount of space schools must give each student and teacher. The current rules require 35-square-feet of space per person in the classroom, although many educators and parents want to see that reduced to 9-square-feet. State education officials said last week they are considering reducing the space requirements but have not done so.
The elimination of the weekly contact limit should make it easier for schools to plan for a return to in-person learning for middle and high school students. Those students rotate between teachers and classrooms for different subjects, increasing the number of contacts they have in a week.
Gov. Kate Brown ordered all schools in counties where infection rates do not exceed certain limits to offer at least some in-person learning for all grades by April 29, with elementary students phased in no later than March 29. School districts that had already set a timeline for return to class that varies slightly from these dates will be allowed to continue as planned, education officials said Monday.
The state Department of Education now requires all schools to offer full on-site or hybrid instruction if their county registers case rates below 200 per 100,000 residents and test positivity of 10% or less. A district may limit in-person instruction to elementary schools if case rates climb as high as 350 per 100,000 residents and test positivity tops 10%.
Nearly 150,000 public K-12 students attended school in-person for at least two hours the first week of March — nearly three times as many as in December, when Brown scaled back the state’s role in school reopening decisions.
Over the weekend, Portland Public Schools announced it has reached a tentative agreement with its teachers union to reopen. If union members and the school board approve the deal, elementary schoolers will return on April 1, the Oregonian/OregonLive reported.
About 50% of Oregon’s 1,590 public schools now offer either full-time in-person instruction or a split model, with students learning part of time online and part of the time in the classroom. According to state data, 339 schools are now fully back to in-person learning and another 480 are offering a split model.
The changes in Oregon’s COVID-19 school rules come as districts in other states re-evaluate and make similar changes.
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