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'We're not going to be able to start in-person': Ontario students to begin the school year with remote learning

The superintendent of the Ontario School District said the plan is to bring students back classrooms in October. But that plan could change.

ONTARIO, Ore. — Malheur County hasn't met the state's metrics for re-opening schools for in-person learning. 

So the Ontario School District will be starting the year with remote learning.

Right now, the plan is to conduct classes online until at least the start of October.

“It just really depends on what happens in our county with the total number of [coronavirus] cases,” Superintendent Nicole Albisu said.

The state of Oregon announced that counties need to meet specific metrics before re-opening. Those metrics include hitting a case rate of fewer than ten cases per population of 100,000. The county’s test positivity rate also needs to fall under 5%.

“With those metrics, we're not going to be able to start in person,” Albisu said.

That’s because Malheur County is nowhere near those metrics. Data from the Oregon Health Authority shows Malheur county has a case rate of 284.6, and their test positivity rate is 20.8%. Those numbers were last updated on July 19.

RELATED: 'We have been anticipating the possibility of stricter measures': Malheur County could be moved back in Oregon's re-opening plan

In the meantime, the school district bought 750 Chromebooks and some hot spots to make sure all students and staff have access to the virtual learning program.

The district was initially preparing for a blended hybrid model. That way, if a student or teacher needed to stay at home because they became infected or needed to quarantine after potentially being exposed, they could still attend class virtually.

“We will be able to provide every staff member and every student a Chromebook, and then obviously we've also been working on access to the internet [for those] that don't currently have it,” Albisu said.

While the district is gearing up to do remote learning, according to Albisu, the teachers wanted to go back to in-person learning.

 “If you ask any one of them, they would tell you they want back in the classroom and back in front of kids,” she said. “But also, at the same time, they worry about their own families and their own health.”

The school board voted to delay the start of the school year until August 31. This was done to give teachers and staff more time to prepare for distance learning.

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