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There's not much consistency in how Oregon school districts report data on COVID in schools

In-person learning at Monroe Middle School

There's a patchwork of policies on how districts share information with families and the public, and what kind of information they share. Now that's changing.

Posted: Sep 18, 2021 9:15 AM

PORTLAND, Ore. — Students in the Portland metro area have been back in school for at least a week, and already thousands are in quarantine after potentially being exposed to COVID-19 in school.

There's not much consistency in how districts track and share the overall picture of COVID in their schools, but many are now changing that.

"How about some data? We're quarantining hundreds of kids — how many have COVID?" said Eric Happel, who has three daughters in Portland Public Schools. .

Turns out, statewide, we don't really know.

"Parents absolutely want to know up to the moment exactly what's going on — and no surprises," said Jennifer Dale, who has a student in the Lake Oswego School District. "And I think that’s what we saw this week with a couple schools, that those are big surprises."

Happel and Dale both believe data should drive decisions so their kids — and all students — can stay in school this year.

"Making informed decisions with information is something we need to be doing a lot more of," Happel added.

To try and answer that call, Portland Public Schools (PPS) launched a detailed online dashboard this week. It's updated with COVID cases and quarantines multiple times a day.

"Our families are asking us in this COVID time for transparency and clear information so they can feel safe and good about what is happening in schools," PPS Board of Education Director Eilidh Lowery said.

But not all Oregon districts are doing this.

The Oregon Department of Education has no requirements on tracking and posting these numbers. This has led to a patchwork of policies on how districts share information with families and the public, and what kind of information they share.

"Parents have a right to expect there's consistency in the way policies are applied and the way data is communicated and we're not seeing that," Dale said.

The Gresham-Barlow School District is one that shows active cases and quarantines in students and staff. Their online dashboard is updated on Mondays.

Tigard-Tualatin School District told KGW it was launching a dashboard Friday. They plan to update it every Friday.

Others, like Lake Oswego, only post cases. Those numbers do not show the full picture, and Dale calls the site "bare bones." Lake Oswego School District said Friday it is now working to add quarantines and the percentage of vaccinated staffers to its tracker.

Some districts, including Beaverton and Hillsboro, rely solely on Oregon Health Authority data which lags days behind.

Beaverton School District told KGW Friday it is now creating its own real-time dashboard and plans to launch it next week.

"We're simply not satisfied with the one to two-week time lag," Beaverton School District communications officer Shellie Bailey-Shah said. "We think we owe it to our community to be fully transparent about what COVID looks like in our schools right now."

From tracking the virus in schools to tracking vaccines, PPS sent families a survey about their kids' vaccination status.

PPS leaders and parents hope that information keeps kids in the classroom.

"I'm happy to share that information," Happel added. "Once we have this change and know people are vaccinated, we need to change those quarantine rules."

"It helps with contact tracing to know who's vaccinated and who's not. It helps us know what our populations are doing so we can be responsive and supportive," Lowery said. "Knowing people's vaccination status is one tool that can help us keep kids in school full-time five days a week."

KGW also learned Friday that the PPS school board is planning to meet with staff and Multnomah County health officials next week to talk about a possible vaccine mandate for students. They'll look into any legal, health and equity issues.

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