Teacher Kara Buchheit talks with Kristen Gough and son James, an incoming kindergartner at Kalapuya Elementary School on Thursday, September 17. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Nearly all of Salem-Keizer's 41,000 students will continue school online through at least Feb. 1, the district announced Tuesday, citing a lack of progress in both Marion and Polk counties toward meeting state metrics for school reopening.

The decision applies to students in fourth grade through high school. State benchmarks for bringing younger kids back into classrooms are looser, and district leaders said they remain hopeful the counties could hit those targets before February.

Salem-Keizer administrators made the decision this week after reviewing the most recent data from Oregon Health Authority, released Monday, according to a news release. At the start of the school year, administrators said Salem-Keizer would remain all-online through at least Nov. 9, the end of the first quarter of the year, with a review of data in mid-October.

The decision for Oregon's second-largest school district comes after similar announcements last week from the state's other largest districts, Portland and Beaverton.

Marion County last week recorded 287 new cases of Covid - more than eight times the number allowed for schools to reopen - with 9.4% of tests for the virus coming back positive.

Current state guidelines allow no more than 10 new cases of Covid weekly per 100,000 county residents for schools to reopen to all grades. The percentage of tests that are positive also has to remain below 5% for three weeks, a target the county has never been close to hitting.

To fully reopen schools, Marion County would have to record no more than 35 new cases of Covid weekly, and Polk County no more than nine. Kindergarten through third grade could resume with triple that number of cases weekly.

Polk County continues to fare better, reporting 33 cases of Covid last week, with 5.7% of tests positive. That's close to the rate needed for the youngest students to resume school, though Salem-Keizer administrators have said they will make decisions for the district as a whole based on metrics in both counties, since many employees in west Salem schools commute from Marion County.

Gov. Kate Brown and OHA leaders said last week they were reviewing school metrics and looking at data about what's happened to Covid cases in other states that have allowed more students back in buildings. They hinted at changes that could make it easier for rural schools to reopen, but did not offer specifics.

"We know how hard the start of the school year has been and continue to be proud of the work of our students, families and educators during this difficult time," the district said in a news release.

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Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.