Philomath School District building
Philomath School District (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The Philomath School District’s current timeline to begin a transition back to the classroom continues to show Jan. 12 for K-3 students, Jan. 26 for grades 4-5 and middle school, and Feb. 2 for high school — but those dates appear to be wishful thinking with the current COVID-19 infection rates.

Benton County’s metrics hit all-time high numbers of 301.0 cases per 100,000 and a 3.7% positivity rate for the Nov. 29-Dec. 12 time period. That’s easily in the extreme category to keep the school district in distance learning with limited in-person instruction for certain students.

Superintendent of Schools Susan Halliday went over the latest numbers during the Dec. 14 school board meeting. Following her report, board member Anton Grube asked, “As much as we’re talking about returning to school, am I interpreting the data to see that we’re trending away from returning to school” on those dates?”

In the school board’s Zoom meeting, Halliday responded by shaking her head yes.

“While we’re making plans, the current test positivity and the current cases per 100,000 are going away from that,” Grube confirmed in reference to the dates shown on the timeline while also wanting to make sure the public doesn’t misunderstand.

But if somehow the metrics allow, the plan as of early this week was to designate the first week after winter break (Jan. 5-8) as a quarantine week and then send K-3 students into hybrid learning the week of Jan. 12-15 (no school on Mondays).

“That allows us to get our youngest students started and the process would keep them in a hybrid model with two days at school, two days at home,” Halliday said. “We would look to move to — if we can — to full in-person learning on Jan. 26 at the start of the new semester at the elementary level.”

Grades 4-5 would remain in distance learning longer and not launch into the hybrid approach until the Jan. 26 date.

Halliday said it’s a little more complicated at the middle school and high school levels. Elementary school students pretty much have the same teacher all day to keep student cohorts intact. But at the higher grades, students change classrooms and learn with different teachers and classmates.

“Because of the different needs to be able to make that happen for all of the different class periods that middle-schoolers and high-schoolers have, we need to be really clear on how that unfolds and how we do that,” Halliday said.

Then she added, “These are projections if metrics allow.”

And that’s the key to the entire timeline and whether or not it becomes reality — again going back to Grube’s clarification.

Halliday also briefed the board on the somewhat-confusing metrics involved with high school athletics. Based on the latest numbers, the teams currently practicing could continue until the end of this week.