ODE revises metrics, benefits rural school districts

MEDFORD, Ore.– The Oregon Department of Education announced new standards for reopening this week that will benefit rural schools by relaxing some of the restrictions originally set in place.

School districts are closing in on the new school year but with this new guidance from the state, it’s changing the way some will operate.

“Our ultimate goal is to get our kids in-person back at school because that is the number one thing we need for them to grow academically,” said Krista Nieraeth, principal of Pacific High School and Driftwood Elementary in Curry County’s Port Orford Langlois School District.

Under new rules, counties with a population of less than 30,000 can have students return to the classroom even if they don’t meet the statewide standard of fewer than 30 cases per 100,000 residents.

“I think it gives us a little more leeway and a little bit more flexibility to be able to provide options,” said Nieraeth who applauded the revisions by the state.

The district has a population of about 210 students, a stark difference from districts in metro Portland. However, with the revisions, the district still won’t be bringing in all of its students at once. It plans on a roll-out and review process to ensure a bit more safety.

“We gotta make sure we’re doing it correctly and so I think we’re in a good place right now where we’re comfortable with what we’re planning on doing,” said Nieraeth.

Across the state towards the east, districts like Lake County echoed a similar sentiment.

“We want to make sure everyone is ready,” said Superintendent Michael Carter. “All the way from emergency drills and everything. So we can learn to do it in our new normal.”

Carter says their district will be moving forward with in-person learning this year. They originally had plans to use a hybrid model but after the new revisions, they’re bringing students back.

“We had an outline but now that we got the green light – once the green light hit we were able to drive the car,” he said.

The district has about 770 students. Masks will be required along with other safety measures including revised school schedules to pace out bus rides. Parents can also choose to opt-out and use the new online school Lakeview Academy.

“We’re prepared to always go right back on consolidated distance learning, so go online for everybody,” said Carter. “We’re ready and prepared for that within two days. So if we have an outbreak or we have to close something we’ll take care of that.”

Districts across the state agree there is no crystal ball and plans are always subject to change. The hope is to continue to find what’s best for their student’s education.

Many school districts have said they are delaying the start of school to train teachers and staff about new protocols. If you’d like to learn more about your district’s plans, each district is providing comprehensive information on its website.

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