PORTLAND, Ore — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Wednesday issued new directives to state health and education leaders in a push to get more students back into classrooms for in-person learning in 2021.
The decision to reopen schools will be made locally by individual districts and schools effective Jan. 1, the governor said. Oregon’s school metrics will be advisory, not mandatory.
“Moving forward, decisions to resume in-person instruction must be made locally, district by district, school by school,” said Brown in a letter to the directors of the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and Oregon Department of Education (ODE).
“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 noted that other states, including Washington, use advisory metrics.
“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,” Brown said.
Brown said in her letter that it is her hope that more Oregon schools, especially at the elementary school level, will transition to in-person learning by Feb. 15, 2021.
In response, the head of the Oregon Education Association (OEA) said the announcement creates more uncertainty at a time when clarity is 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," said OEA President John Larson. "Instead, Gov. 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."
Read the full OEA statement below
During a press conference this week, Brown said educators and school staff should be considered essential workers and qualify for vaccinations during “Phase 1B” of Oregon’s vaccine rollout.
In her letter, Brown said she wants schools to have access to on-site, rapid COVID-19 testing to protect students and staff and minimize quarantine times in public schools.
Brown directed the OHA and ODE to evaluate the current metrics and update them if needed by Jan. 19, 2021.
Here's the full statement OEA President John Larson issued Wednesday:
“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.”