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Gov. Brown: School districts will get to decide how soon to reopen in the new year

COVID Crook County classroom
KTVZ file
Crook County students returned to class, wearing masks, in September 2020

(Update: Adding Redmond schools superintendent, teachers' union statements)

Wants state agencies target to work on geting kids back in class by Feb. 15

SALEM, Ore. (KTVZ) -- In order to return as many Oregon students to the classroom as safely as possible in the new year, Gov. Kate Brown on Wednesday directed the Oregon Department of Education and the Oregon Health Authority to implement several new policy initiatives, with the goal of putting more school districts on track to return students to in-person instruction, especially elementary students, by Feb. 15.

The governor noted in a letter to the agencies that state and federal resources dedicated to school reopening put this goal within reach for school districts, if communities continue to work together to stop the spread of COVID-19 over the next several weeks.

About $109 million in CARES Act funds were distributed to public schools in 2020. The governor also dedicated $28 million for technology and internet assistance for students and schools.

Both the Legislature and Congress have dedicated new resources for safe school reopenings in 2021, including an additional $50 million approved during Monday’s special session to support schools in the transition to in-person instruction.

In addition, the Legislature also passed legislation during the special session providing what the governor called "reasonable liability protections for public and private schools during the remainder of the COVID-19 emergency. "

“As 2021 approaches and we look to the remaining school year just over the horizon, it is clear that the greatest gift we can give to Oregon’s children this holiday season is to redouble our efforts to act responsibly and reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our communities," Brown said. "Our students’ learning, resilience, and future well-being depend on all of us.”

“Each and every Oregonian must do our part now to be disciplined and vigilant, to socially distance, wear facial coverings, avoid large gatherings, and follow other necessary public health requirements.

"The alternative is for Oregonians to remain at risk from the disease for far longer, and for perhaps 90% of Oregon’s students to continue on the unpromising path of spending the remainder of their school year locked out by this virus from their classrooms and youth activities where they best learn, grow, and find connection, safety, and support.”

In her letter to ODE and OHA, the governor directed the agencies to continue to partner with school districts, educators and communities in decision-making processes grounded in sound science and public health and safety, with the goal of preparing more Oregon schools, especially elementary schools, to return to in-person instruction by Feb. 15.

With educators and school staff to be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccinations, the governor also directed the agencies to work with schools to provide on-site, rapid testing as a safeguard, to quickly address symptomatic individuals and those with potential exposure to COVID-19.

In addition, Oregon’s school metrics, the measures of local community spread of COVID-19 that guide when it is appropriate to open schools for in person instruction, will be advisory rather than mandatory, effective Jan. 1.

"Moving forward, decisions to resume in-person instruction must be made locally, district by district, school by school," the governor's announcement said.

In addition to schools continuing to adhere to required health and safety protocols and working in close consultation with their local public health authority in understanding and considering the metrics, teachers, school staff, parents and students should be engaged in this decision-making process to allow schools to make the best choice for their community and their students, the governor said.

Many states, including Washington, have advisory metrics.

Brown added: “As our neighbors to the north have demonstrated, this does not mean schools can resume in-person instruction without regard for COVID-19 spread in the community, but instead should carefully consider the metrics in their local context, the needs of students and families, and readiness to implement health and safety protocols. As we move into a new year, we must all rise to the challenges that COVID-19 presents, and prioritizing our children is most urgent.”

Finally, consistent with ongoing updates to the ODE and OHA Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance, the governor directed the agencies to review the guidance to ensure that all necessary health and safety procedures and protocols are included, to allow students the maximum access to in-person instruction in keeping with health and safety standards, including any updates to Oregon's school metrics, based on scientific data and evidence. In order to give school districts time to plan for any changes, this review will be completed by Jan. 19.

Any proposed updates to Oregon school metrics will be reviewed by the Governor’s Medical Advisory Panel and the Healthy Schools Reopening Council in January, Brown's announcement concluded.

Redmond Schools Superintendent Charan Cline provided this statement on the governor's moves:

"The Redmond School District is eager to have kids back in school as soon as it is safe to do so, and we know that studies are showing transmission of COVID-19 is rare in schools. With Governor Brown's revision of the public health metrics to advisory instead of mandatory, we now have the ability to start a path toward reopening our schools.

"We chose to pause Limited In-Person Instruction earlier this month out of an abundance of caution as we waited for transmission numbers to decrease. We're hopeful Deschutes County's numbers will continue to decline, and we will work with the local health department, as well as our staff, to ensure our students and staff can safely re-enter classrooms in the first months of 2021," Cline said.

The Oregon Education Association issued this news release, critical of the latest moves:

OEA: Governor Brown’s Abrupt Decision Will Create Uncertainty In A Moment When Clarity Has Never Been More Crucial

PORTLAND, OR – Today, following Governor Kate Brown’s announcement that she would no longer enforce Oregon’s public health metrics for safe school reopenings, Oregon Education Association President John Larson released the following statement:

“Nobody wants to get Oregon’s students safely back into our public schools more than educators, but today’s decision by Governor Brown will only result in an increasingly disparate patchwork of return plans throughout the state’s public education system – creating uncertainty in a moment when clarity has never been more crucial.

"The governor has said multiple times throughout this pandemic that we must keep our communities healthy while prioritizing the need to get our students safely back into schools – today’s decision accomplishes neither of those goals.

"Instead, Governor Brown will radically and abruptly change the circumstances by which students and educators are brought back into our public schools, with no time for thoughtful input from Oregon’s education stakeholders and with no real plan for rolling these changes out in any type of deliberative manner.

“Moreover, Governor Brown’s decision to make this announcement in the middle of the holiday season means that the nearly 70,000 educators employed in Oregon’s K-12 public schools and the families of the more than 580,000 students who are educated in them will now spend their holidays trying to understand what these changes mean for their lives and their livelihoods.

"Instead of providing clarity for students, families and educators, Governor Brown’s decision to abruptly end the enforcement of the state’s public health metrics will simply be another example of the continually moving goalposts in our fight against COVID-19 that has left so many Oregonians and Americans frustrated with, and distrustful of, our elected officials throughout the course of this pandemic.

“Educators understand that our state must continue to monitor and evaluate the most reliable and most recent public health data available as we navigate our state response to this pandemic, but our elected leaders should not and cannot allow political pressures to dictate the manner in which that data is implemented. 

"Today’s announcement from Governor Brown will not help return students safely to Oregon’s classrooms – it will simply continue what has already been months of confusion and uncertainty for Oregon’s students and educators.”

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Comments

19 Comments

  1. odd. with the spikes we’re constantly hearing about and a new strain of COVID that’s now also in Ireland, in addition to the UK – this is odd timing at best.

    if nothing significantly improves, my kid is not going to in person no matter what commie kate says!

    1. where did you hear that kids would be forced to go to school? – the Q juice keeps flowing – hard to tell with people around here – beating down the capital doors, demanding everything be opened, calling the governor a commie for working to open things …

      1. not sure what your rant means. what is Q juice?
        look – 1 person went to work sick and killed 7 people. and hundreds more had to quarantine. over the act of 1 person.
        kate is now saying schools may open in Feb. nowhere did i say “forced to go to school”? but with the options in the district it will either be in person or 100% virtual with no teacher interaction.
        are you a parent of a school aged kid? if you were, you’d know what’s being said.
        you really misinterpreted my post, but you usually do.

    2. I’m going to open my business no matter what Kate Brown says!
      I’m going to travel and see my family over the holidays no matter what Kate Brown says!
      I’m going to eat inside a restaurant no matter what Kate Brown says!
      I’m going to ……………. no matter what Kate Brown says!

      Freedom to make your own decisions feels pretty good doesn’t it?

      1. I’m not going into your business even if you open. I’m not traveling with my you wherever you go. I’m not letting you in my restaurant whether you want to or not! Freedom feels great!

    1. wal mart is open and no one way aisles or capacity management. fred meyer is a zoo. i guess the only difference with a restaurant is guests have to remove masks to eat. the restaurants have gone to GREAT lengths to comply and protect and are being punished unfairly.
      i feel so bad for our restaurant owners and workers. they deserve more.
      and if schools re-open, there’s zero excuse to keep the food industry in lock down.

  2. You have the choice to have your child(ren) return to school or not. They can continue with distance learning. I am so glad to hear this news. Finally! The OEA needs to quit saying they are doing what is best for the kids. They aren’t! Teachers need to get back in the classroom or find a new career. Get the vaccine and get back to work.

    1. You must not know any teachers or have any idea of what they’re going through. I know many and none of them like comprehensive distant learning. They want to be back in the classroom. Their work loads have increased significantly throughout the pandemic. They’re “reinventing the wheel” all the time and working twice as hard. They did not ask for this nor do they want it or enjoy it. I’m sure there are some who aren’t doing much and should find a different career. However, the teachers I know have an incredible work ethic and make the world a better place (unlike politicians). I believe school budgets and teachers salaries should be increased. They’ve earned it and deserve it.

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