PORTLAND, Ore. — School districts in Oregon are in the process of trying to get kids back in the classroom, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued new guidelines to help districts make decisions on reopening.
The CDC rules are similar to the guidelines in Oregon, in that they emphasize things like wearing a mask, hand washing and social distancing.
The new CDC guidance also outlines other factors to pay attention to, including community transmission rates. As for vaccines, it recommends teachers are prioritized, but getting a vaccine isn’t a prerequisite for reopening.
“I do think it justifies Oregon being much more aggressive than it has been to date, given we have made the societal investment in prioritizing teachers for vaccination,” said Rene Gonzalez. He’s a Portland parent who’s also a co-founder of the ED300 group, which has advocated for a return to in-person school for all kids, with a distance learning option for families that want it.
In addition to the CDC guidelines, Gonzalez pointed to a Wisconsin study involving rural schools that had safety measures in place.
“Good news, they found that if you reopen a school, almost no in-school spread, zero spread from child to teacher in that study,” Gonzalez said.
But some parents are still hesitant about in-person learning, especially those in communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, said Portland parent Rashelle Chase, who is also a blogger.
“Our communities are being most impacted by COVID," said Chase. "We are more likely to contract COVID, become extremely ill, and even die from COVID.”
She is a mom to two kids: 8-year-old Leo and 2-year-old Luna.
“Predominately what I’m hearing from other communities of color is that we don’t feel safe sending our kids back right now and we’re concerned about our children, we’re concerned about our elders, and we’re concerned about our teachers,” Chase said.
She said an additional concern is for multigenerational households where family members of a variety of ages may be living together.
Meanwhile, teachers in Oregon have been given priority when it comes to getting the COVID-19 vaccine. But many teachers still have other concerns like building ventilation.
“We have new buildings and very old buildings, and some of those old buildings can’t even fit the filter to prevent the spread of the virus within the building,” said Scott Herron, president of the Tigard-Tualatin Education Association.
While there are issues that still need to be worked out, the priority right now is vaccinations. Herron believes many district teachers will have them by late-March, when he said the district plans to start in-person learning for younger students.
An Oregon Department of Education officials said as of last week, almost 20% of students had some form of in-person instruction, which also means about 80% of students statewide are still fully distance learning.