Hood River County School Board will not act on a change to in-person learning prior to its Jan. 27 meeting. New state metrics, statistics on COVID-19 positivity cases, were scheduled to be issued Jan. 19.

In his Jan. 13 message to school board, Superintendent Rich Polkinghorn suggested that in-house learning is not certain but could take place at some point in the 2020-21 school year.

Polkinghorn also emphasized extreme caution in planning a broad change from distance learning anytime soon, despite Gov. Kate Brown’s recent easing of requirements allowing schools to plan their own in-person learning timelines.

“This spring can happen,” Polkinghorn said, with younger grades. “It will be tougher for secondary, but conceivably we will not have 6-12 on campus this year.

“But I do think at some point this school year we will have some students on campus, if we can get out of red and into yellow or green, and follow the guidelines,” he said, referring to the high risk (red) and medium (yellow) and low (green) metric rankings.

“Conditions won’t go away just because people have the vaccine,” Polkinghorn said. In his remarks, he said the proposal that schools do in-house coronavirus testing on students and staff was likely unworkable.

Polkinghorn expressed reservations about the governor’s revised standards, saying school districts remain at legal risk despite recently-passed legislation intended to reduced district’s liability for virus transmission.

He said the keys to addressing a return to in-person learning and monitoring a potential date for that are two-fold: Continue to work with the County Health Department to gauge the metrics, and residents keeping up their coronavirus guards.

“A second surge is expected,” Polkinghorn stressed. “If people feel they are sick they need to take precautions, to stay home.

"People are not super-sick so think they have a cold or cough, but those are the symptoms of COVID and they are often ignored because the sensationalized version is ‘you’re on a ventilator.' The disease has different forms and manifests differently for different people.”

Board Chair Rich Truax said, “I definitely support following the health department and metrics. Nice to have her (Brown) say, ‘You can do this,’ but we have to pay attention to the health implications for everyone.”

Hood River County School Board meetings now receive simultaneous translations into Spanish.