The Criteria for Reopening Schools


Clarion photo Becca Roso

By Jaxon Anderson

If we’ve learned anything over the past year, it’s that predictions aren’t always the most accurate. Quarantine was expected to be just a few months, if not weeks, long. Covid-19 cases have only escalated since then, and now we’re nearing a one-year anniversary of our initial worldwide lockdown.

And, Multnomah County has it the worst out of all of Oregon’s counties. Cases only continue to rise, with the county nearing 30,000 as of late January. The Multnomah website also states that the county is still considered “Extreme Risk,” and is advising people to take the necessary health precautions, such as wearing masks and limiting gatherings.

So far, Multnomah County as a whole has not fully opened up yet, but other counties have allowed their school districts to start limited in person instruction (LIPI) periods. In the Umatilla district, for example, students are allowed to return to schools for no more than two hours a day, as stated on an announcement on their website. It’s still unknown when schools across the state will fully reopen. But with some districts starting LIPI, as well as the new metrics in place and planned vaccine rollouts, it’s likely that only time will tell when they will reopen.

Earlier in October of last year, Governor Kate Brown announced that she was “relaxing the thresholds and criteria for reopening schools.” The metrics required for reopening were based solely on case rates and positivity tests, stating that schools may return to full on-site instruction if the county’s case rates are below 50 per 100,000 people, and positivity rates are below 5%.

Unfortunately for Multnomah, those requirements were not met in the fall and early winter. The Portland Public Schools district has remained in distance learning since those metrics were released, and it’s no secret that everyone wants to get back to in-school learning. Even through last December, as state initiatives were directed to helping the school districts with reopening, the situation has only taken a downhill turn.

Much more recently, in January, Governor Brown has announced that the requirements for reopening schools will be “advisory rather than mandatory,” essentially meaning that school districts are able to choose whether to reopen. And, it has already had its effect on some school districts. Minutes after the announcement was made, the Umatilla school district announced their limited in person instruction, starting Jan. 19.

Other districts, namely Portland Public Schools, are still closed due to high case counts. But, it may not be for long. The district had announced that it was hoping for limited reopening as soon as Jan. 25, even if Multnomah County has surpassed 63 positive cases per 100,000 people since Oct. 25. The federal government is planning a shipment of vaccines to Oregon, so that K-12 and early learning teachers can get protected against the virus as early as Jan. 23. The district’s vaccine team is known to be working with state and county health authorities to get more vaccinations out as quickly as they can, and they initially planned to have them start vaccinating by Jan. 25.

According to the district, vaccinations are taking place in four waves, beginning with LIPI instructors and kindergarten and first grade teachers. The second wave is beginning Feb. 1 with elementary school teachers, followed by middle school teachers in the third wave, and high school teachers in the fourth wave. 

The district has announced tentative plans for hybrid learning for elementary and middle school models starting in April, but no in-person model or plan has been announced for high schools, other than LIPI. 

Schools will have to adapt for an in-person learning environment, such as removing furniture for the increased distance needed, and planning exit and entryways in and out of buildings. It is likely that these measures will remain in place even after schools reopen, just to keep case counts as low as possible for longer. But, with all of these recent announcements in Oregon, the reality of having schools fully reopened is inching closer.