The governor of Oregon held a press conference Tuesday to talk about the return to in-person schooling this fall.
The conference outlined the state’s ability to facilitate in-person or hybrid learning and that further resources will be provided to the state’s education department to allow a transition to distance learning if necessary.
“Health and safety serve as our North Star,” said Governor Kate Brown. “We know that our youngest children, children of color, low-income students, and students experiencing disability have faced the greatest challenges accessing a high-quality education.”
“I am absolutely unwilling to lose an entire school year for any of our kids,” added Governor Brown. “I will demand nothing but excellence from our districts and our educators.”
“We cannot let our kids down.”
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A $28 million budget, under the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund, will be granted to districts to dissolve any technological barriers that distance learning may cause.
State Epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger outlined some of the plans and restrictions.
“Distance learning cannot fully replace in-person instruction, especially for our youngest students,” said Dr. Sidelinger. “Distance learning can compound some systemic inequities that already exist in our educational system, particularly in our students of color who have disproportionate access to online resources.”
Dr. Sidelinger also warned that the reopening of schools and districts may cause an increase in the spread of the coronavirus. Naming countries like Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands as places where schools were reopened with an abundance of testing and safety measures in place, Dr. Sidelinger laid out some of the conditions needed for a successful reopen.
Three levels of metrics are detailed for regions that seek to reopen schools in the fall semester.
At the state level, the percentage of positive tests should be at or below 5% positive in the preceding seven days before reopening. For the county level, Dr. Sidelinger said COVID-19 cases should drop below 10 per 100,000 in the population in the preceding seven days in addition to a three-week trend.
Schools must be able to provide in-person education for students between kindergarten to Grade 3. Districts may also offer limited access to in-person education for students with disabilities.
All districts must prepare for a possibility to transition completely to comprehensive distance learning, as state health officials will be rolling back access and regulations if outbreaks continue or are found to stem from education-based gatherings.
“Today in Oregon, we’re not where we need to be to safely reopen schools,” said Dr. Sidelinger. Oregon’s case rate at 50 per 100,000 state-wide, and north of 5% positivity percentage on tests mean that many current trends will need to shift in order to reopen schools safely this fall.
“We’re seeing some glimmers of hope,” added Dr. Sidelinger.
On Tuesday, the Oregon Health Authority released its highest-ever death count for a single day, announcing that fourteen people in Oregon have lost their lives to the virus.
Previously released plans like Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidelines are still the focus of the Oregon Public Health Division, though it was written and designed at a time in which the group assumed schools would be reopening this fall. This guideline will be updated in mid-August, according to Colt Gill from the Department of Education.
The plan in the coming month is to prepare districts and education institutes to provide digital tools to bring the best distance learning experience to Oregon students.
“This school year will not look like any other school year,” said Governor Brown.