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Parents with kids at NE Portland elementary school start petition to hold classes outside

Organizers say they’ve had positive responses from parents and teachers at the school.
Credit: KGW
Change.org petition for outdoor learning

PORTLAND, Ore. — Fall is coming up quickly and most schools in Oregon starting school fully online. Now parents are looking for other options that will work for families and their kids.

“It was very frustrating, there hasn’t been since last spring, a ‘plan A’, a ‘plan B’, a ‘plan C’, that was then worked on really early,” said Stacy DeLong, who has a 6-year-old daughter.

She and other parents are concerned about younger kids who may not learn as well online.

“What I’m seeing is kind of a lack of creativity around solutions that’ll work,” DeLong said.

So parents at Sabin Elementary School in Northeast Portland have started a petition on the website change.org. It’s in favor of a more creative back-to-school option, one where kids could attend in-person classes outside.

Organizers said they’ve had positive responses from parents and teachers at the school.

“Our kids’ elementary has a really big schoolyard. It’s got a north playground and a south playground. The north playground is already set up with some outdoor spaces. There are streets around the schools I’ve seen they’re closing off streets for bars, so you could close off streets around schools,” said DeLong.

Credit: Stacy DeLong
Stacy DeLong and six-year-old daughter

Organizers know the idea isn’t perfect. DeLong said she knows it’ll take work and resources, but parents are ready to help. Organizers also say it would help parents who juggle busy lives.

“Most of the parents in the neighborhood I would say don’t have full-time childcare lined up for a variety of reasons and we’re not really sure how we’re gonna manage that,” said Selena Deckelmann, who also has a 6-year-old going into first grade in the fall.

Credit: Selena Deckelmann
Selena Deckelmann and six-year-old daughter

In addition to easing the load on families, organizers say the idea will be beneficial for younger kids.

“We know that online learning doesn’t work for first graders and kindergartners, so putting time and resources into that seems like a waste of money,” DeLong said.

“A lot of what the kids are learning at that age, they learn through physical interaction, by watching people speak. It’s very socially focused. So for me, I think if we’re gonna do school, it’s important for kids at this age to have some face-to-face interaction with their teachers. But we want to do that safely,” said Deckelmann

The next step, they said, is to get some time with school administrators and district officials to see what’s possible.

DeLong said the window for fall is closing, but she is hoping there might be an outdoor school option by spring.

“It makes me pretty sad to think about my kid having to go a whole school year without having interaction with her friends and kids of her own age and being able to build that social/emotional learning and also learn from her peers rather than a screen, which for her whole life I’ve been told is bad for her and now I’m being told she should spend a whole bunch of time on it each day,” said DeLong.

Deckelmann said the purpose of the petition is to connect like-minded parents, put the idea on school and district leaders’ radars, and to continue to work with the school community to find ways of getting kids back in school.