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GAPS in-person start date delayed by virus numbers

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Greater Albany Public Schools students will have to wait an additional week before returning to school — if the metrics allow.

On Monday, Superintendent Melissa Goff said that, based on the area’s COVID-19 case totals, she has made the decision not to have students return immediately after winter break. Instead, the district would look to the week of Jan. 11 as the earliest date to reopen classrooms.

That start date would apply only if both Linn and Benton counties met state metrics that allow K-5 students to return to in-person learning. Currently counties are required to have fewer than 100 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 in population over a two-week period.

“That metric was already changed to help us meet it,” said Assistant Superintendent Lisa Harlan, referring to the change in benchmarks made in October. The new metrics reflected case counts that counties had previously managed to meet.

“We are five times where the metric is,” Harlan added. “To get sixth through twelfth grade back, we need 50 or fewer cases (per 100,000), just for people to get a scope of where we are.”

The latest data shows that in the last two-week period, Benton County had 301 cases per 100,000 in population and Linn County reported 506, with a positivity rate of 10.6%.

“Given those numbers and the fact that we’re entering into another holiday season, I made the decision that students won’t be going back the first week after the holiday,” Goff said.

When and if the counties do meet state metrics to allow in-person instruction for K-5, GAPS will have 14 days to get students into classes before metrics are evaluated again. In order to accomplish that, the district said Monday, teachers will have two days of preparation prior to students’ arrival.

And that arrival will be met with a different classroom experience. Social distancing still must be in place, with 35 square feet allowed per person, meaning that, in GAPS, class sizes would be around 15 students, depending on the school.

In addition, students would still be on a hybrid schedule. Children in grades K-5 would be on a morning or afternoon schedule, attending in person for only half the day on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays would remain as they currently are, in comprehensive distance learning.

According to GAPS spokesperson Andrew Tomsky, the district is moving forward with plans to bring students back despite high virus case numbers in the hopes case counts fall within the allotted metrics by January. 

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