OREGON FAMILIES CALL ON GOVERNOR TO MANDATE EVERY DISTRICT PROVIDE IN- PERSON OPTIONS
PORTLAND, Ore. _ Oregon families seeking to accelerate in-person school openings on the heels of New York City’s reopening announcements laid out a four-pronged strategy, and encouraged members to step up advocacy.
It has been more than 260 days since Governor Kate Brown closed schools – ostensibly as a short-term, 2-week pause. Numerous state leaders, including Director of the Oregon Department of Education, Colt Gill, have said that in-person schools can operate without materially contributing to spread of COVID-19.
An interview this morning with the medical director of infectious diseases at OHSU’s Doernbecher Children's Hospital supports Gill's statement.
The damage to children and families of comprehensive distance learning and cessation of co-curricular activities is well documented and extensive but little progress has been made in reopening schools, particularly in the state’s largest districts and for middle and high-school students.
ED 300, a coalition of family groups statewide that has more than 30,000 members, is calling on Brown to adopt the following reopening strategy:
1) Mandate In-Person Options. Mandate that all districts in the state provide in-person school and co-curricular activities for every Oregon child by January 6, 2021, the 300th day of school closures. Remove state and local restrictions to allow such in-person offerings. Importantly, this does not require that every student return to the classroom, nor that that teachers/staff in high-risk groups (including those living or caring for immunocompromised individuals) return to the classroom. Ed 300 is calling for a choice, as many other districts around the country have done.
2) Prioritize Teachers and School Staff in Vaccination and Testing Programs. Clearly define school employees as essential workers and prioritize them in the state’s vaccine and testing plans.
3) Focus on Ventilation. Require all districts to identify 3 tiers of ventilation improvements for classrooms without standard ventilation: (i) identify low-cost, short-term improvements that can be made by January 6; (ii) establish which medium-term and cost-effective investments can be made in summer; and (iii) identify long-term ventilation needs and funding sources. Educate districts on Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER Fund of the CARES Act).
4) Open School Grounds to Children. Encourage districts and private schools to again make their grounds available to the state’s children for sports and other co-curricular activities.
“With a stroke of the pen, Governor Brown mandated Oregon’s children go home in March. And they have been there ever since. By January 6th, Governor Brown must ensure every child in this state has the ability and option to return to school,” said Rene Gonzalez, spokesman for ED300 and Opening PDX Schools. “While we have seen progress this fall in recognizing the importance of in-person education, and the ineffectiveness of closing schools in fighting COVID, we are deeply concerned that even if the Governor removed all restrictions to reopening tomorrow, our largest districts would not reopen. The combination of a very difficult state regulatory environment and a complete lack of urgency in the state’s largest districts needs to end,” added Jennifer Dale of Clack to School.
At the same time, “ED 300 fully recognizes that the state needs to put in place a public health infrastructure to protect our teachers and families” continued Gonzalez, “we are calling on the state to prioritize teachers for vaccination and testing and to identify what steps can be taken to improve ventilation statewide.”