BLUE RIVER, Ore. -- As the school year approaches, the Oregon Department of Education has released new guidelines that make it easier for rural school districts to get students back into the classroom.
Under state guidance, schools in populated counties like Benton, Coos, Douglas, Lane and Linn have a set of metrics that allow them to return to in-person instruction if they have an enrollment of fewer than 250 students where 10 percent or less come from outside the district and are more than eight miles from public schools that serve the same grade levels.
The schools must also not have had any cases of COVID-19 for two weeks.
If the schools meet those criteria, the next step is making sure the county the school is in meets state requirements.
The county must have a test positivity rate of 5% and less than 30 cases per 100,000 people, more lenient than the requirement of 10 cases per 100,000 for non-rural schools.
Lane County is well beneath the 5% positivity rate but is sitting at 18 cases per 100,000 people. That means that eligible rural schools could reopen for in-person classes, while more populated ones could not.
McKenzie School District in Blue River is one of the few in Lane County that qualifies.
Superintendent Lane Tompkins said that come September, the district still plans to be fully remote.
"Even though our community is rural, we do have a lot of movement between our communities, and Eugene-Springfield and the greater Lane County. We feel looking at the Lane County numbers and metrics is a good indicator to follow," he said.
They will consider moving to a hybrid model in October. Still, the state's other new rules regarding limited in-person learning could help connect families without adequate internet access to an equitable education, allowing those students to learn in-person earlier than those who do have access.
"Because of the geography, cell service is a challenge. So we will have to work to support families with students to be able to connect to the internet," said Tompkins.
Counties with populations of fewer than 30,000 people have even more lenient rules for reopening rural schools.