PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s announcement on Friday had a lot of people talking, including school district leaders, teachers and parents.
Right now, many school districts in Oregon have already had some form of in-person learning, but they have different timelines. The governor’s executive order instructing public schools return to either full in-person instruction or a hybrid model with a distance learning option means all districts will have to get on board at the same timeline.
The governor has said she wants K-5 students to be given the opportunity to go to school in-person on or before the week of March 29. She wants students in grades 6-12 to be given the option on or before the week of April 19.
“We appreciate that there is progress here. It’s just been so painfully slow in Oregon,” said Rene Gonzalez, dad to three kids and cofounder of ED300, a group that has advocated for a return to schools.
“This shows progress but ultimately the test is going to be how many children return to school and how quickly, both hybrid and full in-person,” Gonzalez said.
Another parent, Lisa Kensel, said the order may be helpful to many children in Oregon.
“I think this executive order could meet the needs of students who have not had as rigorous an educational experience in CDL [comprehensive distance learning],” said Kensel, who is mom to three kids in grades four, seven and 11 who attend school in the Portland Public School District.
Kensel if also president-elect of the Oregon Parent Teacher Association, and she has some questions
“I have questions about how we’re safely going to do this. What does air quality look like?” said Kensel.
“I’m wondering what this really changes. Does it change a lot?”
For Kensel, it won’t change much. Her family has already opted to keep her youngest child in distance learning even though it’s been a challenge.
“We had a conversation with him about what the day would really look like, that it would be two hours a couple times a week,” Kensel said.
She also mentioned the strain hybrid learning would put on her schedule, being a single, working mom.
“Personally I would reevaluate that if I know that the buildings are going to be safe for my students to go back into and that they’re going to be there for full days, even if it’s two days a week,” said Kensel.
The executive order may not change much for some school districts either. For instance, Salem-Keizer Public Schools already started hybrid learning for its youngest students this week. Portland Public Schools (PPS), the state’s largest district, has plans to start hybrid learning in April, though it’s unclear if the governor’s announcement will expedite that plan. A district spokesperson said the district would share more information with parents on exact start dates soon. The PPS website said in a recent survey of kindergarten through fifth grade families, about 69% wanted some sort of in-person instruction available for students.
But there are school districts that are looking at a lot of work ahead. Earlier this week, a board member for the David Douglas School District said the board had recently decided to stay in distance learning for the remainder of the year, with the exception of limited in-person instruction. However, after the governor’s announcement, the district sent a letter to families and staff saying the district and board support the order.
In part, the letter read, “Based on the Governor’s executive order, and in collaboration with our School Board, staff and families, the David Douglas School District will immediately begin working to meet those deadlines and reopen in what is likely to be a hybrid model – a combination of in-person and distance learning. This will allow families that are more comfortable with an online option to continue with the model.”
The letter cited a recent community survey that found about 45% of students would return to school as soon as possible and 55% might not immediately come back.
Other districts may be in the same boat.
“That’s a concern, that they’re going to be scrambling at the last minute here,” said Kensel.
Kensel said she’s okay with in-person school, so long as it’s done safely.
Meantime, parents like Gonzalez are watching and waiting to see how it’ll all play out.
“Until children are back in school five days a week, full-time, or at least have that option, we’re not going to celebrate,” Gonzalez said.
He said he hopes the state makes an extra effort to help smaller districts, which may have fewer resources, to reopen.
As for teachers, the Oregon Education Association, which represents teachers unions across the state, sent out a statement saying the “OEA and Local Education Associations support the spring timeline for expanding in-person instruction.”
Although as KGW’s Pat Dooris reported, a Portland teacher he spoke to outside of one school said they were concerned about bringing more students into the classroom.