Dear St. Mary’s students and families, 

I’m writing to update you on our reopening plans for the upcoming school year, particularly in light of Governor Brown’s news conference and the new state metrics for physically reopening schools that she announced yesterday. 

For those of you who like to get to the bottom line first: 

  • We are planning for online instruction only for Module 1 which begins on August 20.  
  • As soon as the State of Oregon and Jackson County have three good weeks in a row per the new metrics, and we are allowed to reopen school physically, live and in-person, we will do so, and we are prepared to do so.  

Now for more detail:

As you may know, yesterday Governor Brown announced new metrics, below, that Oregon must reach in order to return to on-campus school. You can read the media release here

This announcement was expected, as statewide metrics were mentioned in the latest version of Ready Schools, Safe Learners. 

In order for schools to return to on-campus learning, both these state and local conditions must be met over a continuous three-week period:

State level: 
  • Test positivity rate of 5% or less over seven days

County level:
  • Test positivity rate of 5% or less over seven days
  • 10 or fewer cases per 100,000 people over seven days

This OHA document provides the relevant date for the past three weeks.

Although the test positivity rate for Jackson County is below 5% currently and the test positivity rate for the State of Oregon was tantalizingly close last week at 5.1%, the case rate per 100,000 people for Jackson County is quite high at 24.4 per 100,000.  

Based on the past week’s numbers, therefore, we fail to meet two out of the three required criteria for reopening.   

As the weeks go by, this turns into a three week countdown during which time we need to meet all three criteria, week-by-week for three consecutive weeks, in order to reopen.  

For example, if next week the State of Oregon and Jackson County test positive rates are 5% or lower and the number of new cases per 100,000 people in Jackson County is 10 or fewer, then we need two more weeks of the same good numbers in order to reopen school in person.  

We, of course, will be monitoring the numbers and communicating to you when we will reopen.  Since this is a three-week countdown with publicly available information, it will not come as some surprising last-minute announcement when we reopen.  If we have two good weeks, we’ll all be hoping for a third good week, and then we’ll reopen the following week. 

During this entire summer, we have developed in excruciating detail the plan required by the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) for physically reopening St. Mary’s School as prescribed in the Ready Schools, Safe Learners manual.  This week we are submitting that plan, as required, to the Jackson County Public Health Authority, which has been advising us on the plan for the past several weeks, and then we will submit the plan to the ODE as required.  Also as required, we will post the entire plan on our website and everyone will be able to read it in all of its detail.  We will notify you by email when we post our reopening plan.    

I will remark, without getting into great detail, that when we can reopen school physically, barring some sort of miraculous disappearance of Covid-19 or the sudden advent of an effective and widely available vaccine, school will look different.  We will all be wearing masks, classrooms will be rearranged for proper distancing, traffic flows around the school will have signage and be one-way, and lunch will be regulated.  Again, the purpose of this email is not to share all of the plan’s detail.  We will post the plan on the website in early August, and you will be able to read it in detail there.   

I do wish to thank the parents, trustees, students, teachers, and staff who have been meeting all summer to help formulate our reopening plan in the best way possible for students and staff while complying with all ODE regulations.  

Also, I’d like to point out that those committees contemplated and planned for the “what if” scenario of our going back to online instruction if necessary.  St. Mary’s School delivered excellent online instruction last year when most other schools were caught flat-footed.  This summer, we have worked at making our online pedagogy and practices even better in the event that we would have to go that route again. We will be able to deliver an online education that is less stressful for students, more user-friendly, less fatiguing, and more humane this year.  We did well last year, to be sure, but we have also reflected upon last spring’s experience and are prepared to do even better with online instruction.  You can be assured that all of the qualities of our module system and the St. Mary’s spirit of teaching will be delivered to the greatest extent possible in our online instruction, and it will be significantly better than what other schools can offer.  

To return to the new metrics, and I hate to launch into this paragraph, there is a chance that schools can be reclosed again at any time during the school year if Covid-19 numbers spike.  

If these numbers below occur, the school can stay open physically but must be on high alert and at-the-ready to go back to online learning:

• 20 cases or greater per 100,000 over 7 days
• Test positivity of 7.5% or greater over 7 days

If the numbers move up to these levels below, then school is closed physically and we are back to online instruction:

• 30 or more cases per 100,000 over 7 days
• Test positivity of 10% or greater over 7 days

I would like to conclude with a few observations that may earn me the title of “Mr. Obvious.” I think the vast majority of us were hoping for all being together in person, on campus to start the school year.  We all want the coronavirus to go away and we’re sick of it.  The old normal lives we all had now seem like some distant golden time.  That said, I’ve heard over the summer from families and employees who are in high-risk categories themselves, or live with relatives who are at high- risk, who had some well-founded apprehensions about having 600 people together on campus everyday.  This disease kills people and has some nasty after effects for survivors that we are still learning about. It’s nothing to be trifled with. As good citizens, we should do our best to comply with public health measures and with the law to quash the disease so we can get back to some semblance of normalcy.  St. Mary’s School is proud to do its part for public health.  

Thank you for your time in reading this email and for your cooperation as students and parents during these challenging times.  

We’ll be updating you frequently.

Sincerely,


Frank Phillips 
President
St. Mary's School