Nyjah Angeles raises a hand during the first day back to school at Richmond Elementary on Tuesday, March 2. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)
Oregon health and education officials on Monday released a new set of school safety guidelines intended to get more public school students around the state back into physical classrooms.
The changes will have little immediate impact for the Salem-Keizer School District, which resumed in-person elementary school classes earlier this month, ahead of most large districts in the state. But they could simplify district planning for holding middle and high school classes in person.
The latest iteration of the Oregon Department of Education's "Ready Schools, Safe Learners" guidance removes one rule many of the state's larger districts had cited as a barrier to holding more in-person classes. But it leaves unchanged spacing requirements that effectively limit most local classrooms to half their pre-pandemic capacity.
While on the bus and at school, students must still be kept in groups, called cohorts, to make it easy for school and health officials to trace any cases of Covid and minimize the number of people exposed.
Students may be part of multiple groups, such as a set of classmates they ride the bus with and another they have math class with. But a previous ruled capped at 100 total number of classmates any one student may come into contact with during a week. That limit is now gone, simplifying the logistics of scheduling classes in large high schools like those in Salem with roughly 2,000 students.
Still in place is a rule requiring 35 square feet of classroom space per student. That means in-person classes more than two days per week are unlikely in Salem. The space limit means most classrooms can accommodate about half a class of students at one time. For now, elementary school classes are split, with students attending alternate days and working online at home three days per week.
Fourth and fifth graders in the Salem-Keizer School District are scheduled to resume in-person classes Tuesday, joining their younger classmates.