Safe Harbor Clause Update

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Oregon Department of Education - Oregon achieves - together

Date:      December 16, 2020
To:         Superintendents, Principals, Public Charter School Leaders, and
               Private School Leaders
From:    Colt Gill, Director of the Oregon Department of Education
RE:        Continuation of Ready Schools, Safe Learners Section 0c.1.
              Operating In-Person Instruction Under Previous Metrics


The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and Oregon Department of Education (ODE) are extending provisions of the Ready Schools, Safe Learners Guidance related to the “Safe Harbor Clause."

The in-health metrics for returning to in-person instruction ODE released on October 30 offered a Safe Harbor Clause that allows schools that were implementing the On-Site or Hybrid Instructional Model in compliance with the previous metrics to continue operating in-person instruction under these new metrics. Schools located in counties in “Distance Learning” column of Ready Schools, Safe Learners Guidance Section 0b. General Metrics were initially provided the option to continue to implement in-person instruction.  That safe harbor allowance was initially set to end on January4th pending review by OHA and ODE. This would have meant that schools who have been operating under these prior exceptions would need to move to Distance Learning the week of January 4th to align to the new metrics.

Schools in Oregon that have continued operating in counties with case rates/counts or test positivity, in the “Distance Learning” (red column) have generally not experienced transmission at the school site. Adherence to public health protocols in Ready Schools, Safe Learners Guidance Sections 1-3 appear to be effective in reducing the risk of spread. These protocols include entry screening and exclusion practices, maintaining small cohorts, wearing face coverings at all times, maintaining physical distancing, implementing hand washing routines, readiness to respond to exposure, and more.

Schools in Oregon are seeing COVID-19 cases introduced to schools. When appropriate actions are immediately implemented, the introduction of a case into a school setting does not lead to transmission to others in the school.

The risk of cases being introduced to schools is higher in counties with high case rates/counts and high test positivity. Risk of spread of the disease in the school environment can be mitigated. As local public health authorities capacity is stretched in counties with high case rates/counts, it is imperative that schools are maintaining accurate contact logs and are ready to support quarantine and isolation requirements. It is important to implement the exclusion guidance to reduce spread. Interruptions to in-person instruction to quarantine after an exposure are necessary. These interruptions are disruptive to learning and should be considered as schools coordinate with staff and community through the equity decision tool to determine the best instructional model for their situation.

Within the next 10 days the Ready Schools, Safe Learners Guidance will be updated to reflect the conditions in which Safe Harbor may continue in schools that have previously implemented this clause. The guidance will reflect these changes:

0c. Operating within the General Metrics

  1. Operating In-Person Instruction under Previous Metrics - “Safe Harbor Clause” as schools transition to updated metrics: Any school operating with in-person instruction in compliance with previous metrics, including under any prior exceptions, released by ODE and OHA may continue to operate in-person.
  • If the school is located in a county with current metrics in the “On-Site” or “On-Site and Distance Learning” columns of the metrics chart (above), they may continue operating in-person.
  • If the school is located in a county with current metrics in the “Transition” column of the metrics chart (above), then school officials should discuss with their local public health authority (LPHA) and consider the spread of COVID-19 within schools and the local community in deciding whether to return to Comprehensive Distance Learning (CDL).
  • Unless operating under an exception in section 0d (below), if the school is located in a county with metrics in the “Distance Learning” column of the metrics chart (above), then the school must transition to distance learning if: 
    • The school experiences unrelated individual cases in two or more separate cohorts without a known source of exposure;
    • The school experiences two or more clusters (2 or more confirmed cases) with onset within 14 days of one another;
    • The school is unable to maintain staff capacity to adequately serve students or maintain compliance with Sections 1-8 of the guidance (Sections 1-3 for private schools); or
    • The school is found to be out-of-compliance with Sections 1-3 of this guidance.

The Ready Schools, Safe Learners Guidance will also reflect other minor updates, including alignment to the CDC’s new quarantine period recommendations. The ongoing review and updates to Ready Schools, Safe Learners Guidance will continue as we enter 2021.

Governor Brown has directed ODE and OHA to continue to develop and evaluate strategies and practices necessary to mitigate risk and return more of Oregon’s students to in-person instruction, including greater access to COVID-19 testing, resources to reduce the risk of transmission at school, addressing equity in access to instruction, and the application of metrics. 

Thank you for your continued leadership, and please use the ODE COVID-19 inbox for additional questions.