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5-03 distance learning 2

In this May 2020 file photo, Noah Hernandez, a fifth-grader at Shasta Elementary School, is among thousands of students throughout Klamath County who are engaging with their teachers and classmates online at home after the COVID-19 pandemic closed school buildings statewide.

Friday morning update:

Due to rising test results in Klamath County, some students will be forced back to online-only instruction after Thanksgiving break.

Jessica Dale, assistant director of Klamath County Public Health wrote to school leaders Thursday night and noted the county "had received enough positive test results for this week to know that when numbers post for the two week lookback on Nov. 23, our rates will exceed 200 per 100,000. As a result, schools will need to return to comprehensive distance learning on Monday, Nov. 30."

Some schools that were previously operating under the kindergarten through third grade exception, as well as others under a rural and remote schools exception, may be able to continue to offer some in-person learning. According to county public health, a complete case investigation is necessary "to make an informed recommendation on continued in-person instruction under those models."

That recommendation is likely to be released by Nov. 23.

This is an evolving story. Check back at heraldandnews.com for updates throughout the day.

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Klamath County School District and most Klamath Falls city schools are continuing to conduct classes in person under a stay granted to Klamath County Public Health through a state waiver. That’s despite a 10.7% COVID-19 positivity rate in Klamath County.

Test positivity percentages allow schools to stay open to in-person instruction, until they go over 10%.

But the Oregon Department of Education agreed on Tuesday to the one-week stay so health officials could update data, according to a statement from KCSD. Districts could know as early as Monday what the immediate future will look like for schools, many of which are currently conducted under a hybrid learning model with some in-person classes.

According to school officials, the county appealed to the state for the waiver and cited the impact of a ransomware attack at Sky Lakes Medical Center on local testing numbers.

“Klamath County and Klamath Falls City schools do not need to take any action in relation to the 10.7% test positivity data point released this week,” said Colt Gill, director of the Oregon Department of Education and deputy superintendent of public instruction.

He shared the comment in an email to district superintendents and commissioner Kelley Minty Morris, according to KCSD.

Klamath County School District will continue to monitor the metrics and will alert families of any changes to school models and schedules. If the rate goes above 10% next week, 4th through 12th grade students at Brixner, Ferguson, Shasta, Stearns, Peterson, Falcon Heights, Mazama and the Henley Complex would be required to return to online-only classes on Nov. 30.

At this time, case rates have no impact on county K-3 students and students in small, rural schools such as Keno, Malin, Merrill, Chiloquin, Gilchrist, Gearhart, Bonanza and Lost River, according to Superintendent Glen Syzmoniak.

“Those students would continue with their current in-person models under a ‘safe harbor’ clause in the state guidance,” Szymoniak said. “The safe harbor clause also includes special education students and other students attending under limited in-person instruction models. If metrics remain unfavorable, these students would be required to transition to distance learning as of Jan. 4.”

Szymoniak said Klamath County School District’s top priority is the safety of students and staff, and he said the district will continue to monitor the impact of the virus. As of Tuesday, Klamath County Public Health officials assured KCSD that the increasing trend in new cases is not associated with schools, and the county continues to experience minimal community spread.

“We worked hard to bring our students back, and we hope our county’s numbers decrease so we can continue to offer in-person learning,” he said.

Paul Hillyer, superintendent of Klamath Falls City Schools, said they will also be watching metrics closely.

“What we really have to watch is this week’s numbers and the numbers going forward,” Hillyer said. “The most important thing for us is we have to hope that our county stays out of the red zone ... Then we can continue with our plans to keep K-6 in person and then we’re planning on moving grades seven and eight into in-person on Dec. 3.”

Students could return to Klamath Union High School as early as Monday, Dec. 7 under that tentative plan.

Updates from the state, likely to arrive on Monday, could change those plans.

“All bets are off if we get into the red zone, which means we have 137 cases over a two-week period or we go over a 10% positivity rate,” Hillyer said. “If we turn red in the next two weeks, we won’t be able to have (grades) 7-8 back until January.”

Wendy Niskanen, COVID-19 coordinator for Klamath Falls City Schools, said that during the stay, officials will look at how successful it has been to have K-3 and 4-6 students in a hybrid learning model and determine next steps.

“I don’t want to speculate but I can say that when your test positivity rate is high, it’s more likely that your county case rate will go up,” Niskanen said. “We are giving leadership in public health time to verify what that number is, because there’s been some data issues.”

Niskanen said that once the data issues are sorted, they will need to see improvements or city schools could have to close to in-person learning once again. That will take community-wide focus, she said.

“We really want people in our community to be careful about travel, be careful about hand-washing and social distancing and staying away from big gatherings,” she added.