(Salem, OR) — The Governor’s Healthy Schools Reopening Council met yesterday to review the steps Oregon will need to take to return more students to in-person instruction in schools. While new nationwide data on schools reopening for in-person instruction has become available since Oregon’s metrics were first released at the end of July, the increasing community spread of COVID-19 in counties across Oregon presents a major obstacle to returning more students to the classroom.
“Returning to in-person instruction safely is key to ensuring Oregon’s students are receiving a high-quality education that prepares them for lifelong success,” said Governor Kate Brown. “But our schools and our educators do so much more than teach and inspire students.
“Our schools provide warm and nutritious meals to students who are hungry. They are health centers. They provide for students’ mental health and well-being. And, at the center of it all, are the teachers, nurses, counselors, librarians, and support professionals who, every day, build the personal, individual connections with students that are so crucial to their lifelong success.”
As of this week, only two counties currently meet Oregon’s metrics for in-person instruction for all grades, however, Oregon as a whole is exceeding the statewide 5% positivity rate maximum allowed for schools to move forward with reopening. Seven counties currently meet the metrics for some in-person instruction for K-3 students. (Before case counts increased, as many as 20 counties were eligible to resume in-person instruction for K-3 students.) According to the Oregon Department of Education, approximately 45,000 students currently receive at least some in-person instruction in Oregon schools. Updating Oregon’s metrics without addressing the rising COVID-19 case rates in counties across the state, though, would leave most students in Oregon in comprehensive distance learning.
In order to return more students to classrooms across Oregon, the Healthy Schools Reopening Council identified three main areas of work:
Review of the metrics to return to in-person instruction to reflect the latest data and best practices learned from other states.
Ensure that school districts are prepared to effectively implement the Ready Schools, Safe Learners health and safety protocols for in-person instruction, so that students, educators, and staff are returning to safe learning environments.
Drive down community transmission of COVID-19, so that schools can reopen and stay open, to provide stability and certainty for students, parents, and educators.
“In order to get our kids back into the classroom, we need concerted, community-wide efforts to drive down COVID-19 case rates––by wearing face coverings, watching our physical distance, washing our hands, and forgoing large social gatherings,” said Governor Brown. “It’s on all of us to work together to stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, so we can open schools and keep them open safely.”
The Healthy Schools Reopening Council also identified equity in comprehensive distance learning as a major concern, particularly for historically-underserved Oregon students who already faced systemic disparities in education. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated those existing disparities, with a disproportionate impact on Oregon’s Black, Indigenous, Latino/Latina/Latinx, and Tribal communities, and communities of color.
Added Governor Brown: “Distance learning is exponentially more difficult for parents who can’t stay home, because they work in essential sectors like the service industry, construction, manufacturing, and agriculture. Not every home in every county has reliable access to broadband or learning devices for all children. And, unfortunately, too many students do not have a stable place to call home. These are the kids who need in-person instruction the most. The kids for whom a smile in the classroom or a helping hand in the lunchroom means everything.”
The Healthy Schools Reopening Council is charged with advising the Governor and the Oregon Department of Education as school districts develop and implement their plans for a safe return to school for Oregon’s students under the Ready Schools, Safe Learners K-12 schools reopening process.
In order to ensure all community voices are represented, the council includes state and local officials, public health experts, public members from a diverse range of backgrounds, and members from the education community, including representatives of students, parents, support staff, school administrators, school board members, teachers, counselors, and school nurses. The full membership of the Healthy Schools Reopening Council is available here.