Portland middle school schedules clarified, rural district pushes to reopen high school: The week in education

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In late July, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said students may not see the inside of a classroom for months if the state didn’t curb steadily rising coronavirus infections.

For much of August, the average daily rate of new cases steadily fell until it hit a season low in mid-September. Then, rates started to climb.

New state modeling shows what Oregon health officials call a “discouraging” trend as the most optimistic scenario forecasts an average of 800 new cases per day by Oct. 22, or about 19 per 100,000 residents.

That’s nearly double the threshold state health and education officials set for all of Oregon’s students to return to in-person instruction.

Those rising infection rates have dashed some districts’ hopes of allowing their students back into classrooms, most notably in Lane and Douglas counties, where spikes in case counts scuttled districts’ hopes of a state-sanctioned reopening.

Here are some of the biggest education stories from across the state:

Education stories from the Portland area:

Portland Public Schools officials offered a mea culpa over what they say was “fuzzy” communication regarding middle school schedules that had parents wondering why their children were only guaranteed 4 1/2 hours of live synchronous instruction per week.

Chief of Schools Shawn Bird told The Oregonian/Oregonlive that some teachers and principals interpreted the schedules to mean they were only allowed to offer three live, whole-class lessons per day on Monday and Tuesday.

“It was fuzzy and I take responsibility for it,” he said. “Hopefully we’re all on the same page now.”

And across the state:

For five consecutive weeks, Douglas County saw fewer than 10 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents, clearing the bar set by the state to offer in-person instruction for all of its students. (With various distancing and cohorting measures in place.)

On Sept.


Inside the Fight to Reopen the University of Arizona

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Ian Pepper and Charles Gerba have been waiting 30 years for the chance to use sewage to save the world. And in the last week of August, it looked like they might have done just that—or at least saved the sunbaked corner of Tucson that is the University of Arizona campus, at least for a little while.

Pepper, 74, is a microbiologist. Gerba, 75, is a virologist. They have spent a combined 82 years on the faculty at Arizona, and they are world-renowned experts on, among other subjects, the germs found in human waste. Their shared lab isn’t on campus, but on the grounds of a county sewage-treatment plant, where they have “sewage on tap,” as Gerba puts it. They’ve worked for years to find ways to use wastewater testing to get an early warning about the spread of disease. “Sewer mining,” they sometimes call it.

So when the University of Arizona’s president, Robert C. Robbins, announced in April that he was determined to reopen the campus in the fall, with students in dorms and some in-person classes—the first president of a major public university in the country to do so—Pepper and Gerba saw their opportunity. Over the summer, they set up a system to collect sewage at 16 manholes around campus, dropping a scoop 10 feet down into a stream of wastewater from a specific building, or set of buildings, then racing the samples back to their lab to test for the coronavirus. They collect samples three times a week, always in the morning, “around 8:30,” Pepper says. “That’s when people do their business.”

After a spring and summer of intense preparation—and not a little controversy—Arizona started moving students into dorms on Friday, August 14. Returning students were given antigen quick-tests, and could move in only if they