In order to return as many Oregon students to the classroom as safely as possible in the new year, Governor Kate Brown has directed the Oregon Department of Education and the Oregon Health Authority to implement several new policy initiatives, with the goal of putting more school districts on track to return students to in-person instruction, especially elementary students, by February 15, 2021.
The governor noted in a letter to the agencies that state and federal resources dedicated to school reopening put this goal within reach for school districts, if communities continue to work together to stop the spread of COVID-19 over the next several weeks. About $109 million in CARES Act funds were distributed to public schools in 2020.
The governor also dedicated $28 million for technology and internet assistance for students and schools. Both the Legislature and Congress have dedicated new resources for safe school reopenings in 2021, including an additional $50 million approved during Monday’s special session to support schools in the transition to in-person instruction.
In addition, the legislature also passed legislation during the special session providing reasonable liability protections for public and private schools during the remainder of the COVID-19 emergency.
“As 2021 approaches and we look to the remaining school year just over the horizon, it is clear that the greatest gift we can give to Oregon’s children this holiday season is to redouble our efforts to act responsibly and reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our communities. Our students’ learning, resilience, and future well-being depend on all of us,” said Gov. Brown.
“Each and every Oregonian must do our part now to be disciplined and vigilant, to socially distance, wear facial coverings, avoid large gatherings, and follow other necessary public health requirements. The alternative is for Oregonians to remain at risk from the disease for far longer, and for perhaps 90% of Oregon’s students to continue on the unpromising path of spending the remainder of their school year locked out by this virus from their classrooms and youth activities where they best learn, grow, and find connection, safety, and support.”
In her letter to ODE and OHA, the Governor directed the state agencies to continue to partner with school districts, educators, and communities in decision-making processes grounded in sound science and public health and safety, with the goal of preparing more Oregon schools, especially elementary schools, to return to in-person instruction by February 15, 2021.
With educators and school staff to be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccinations, the Governor also directed the agencies to work with schools to provide on-site, rapid testing as a safeguard to quickly address symptomatic individuals and those with potential exposure to COVID-19.
In addition, Oregon’s school metrics, the measures of local community spread of COVID-19 that guide when it is appropriate to open schools for in person instruction, will be advisory rather than mandatory, effective January 1. Moving forward, decisions to resume in-person instruction must be made locally, district by district, school by school.
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.
Many states, including Washington, have 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," Gov. Brown said. "As we move into a new year, we must all rise to the challenges that COVID-19 presents and prioritizing our children is most urgent.”
Finally, consistent with ongoing updates to the ODE and OHA Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance, the Governor directed the agencies to review the guidance to ensure that all necessary health and safety procedures and protocols are included to allow students the maximum access to in-person instruction in keeping with health and safety standards, including any updates to Oregon's school metrics, based on scientific data and evidence. In order to give school districts time to plan for any changes, this review will be completed by January 19, 2021.
Any proposed updates to Oregon school metrics will be reviewed by the Governor’s Medical Advisory Panel and the Healthy Schools Reopening Council in January.