Brown Sets Path to Open Schools

  Gov. Kate Brown has directed the Oregon Department of Education and the Oregon Health Authority to focus on getting students back into the classroom by February 15, 2021.  

Noting in a letter to the agencies that this goal would be achievable provided communities statewide continue to work on stopping the spread of COVID-19, Brown dedicated $28 million for technology and internet assistance for students and schools for 2021. Approximately $109 million in CARES Act funding has already been distributed to public schools in 2020. Additionally, legislation was passed in the latest special session to provide reasonable liability protections for school – public and private – during the remaining 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,” Brown said.

Calling for discipline and vigilance from all Oregonians to attain this goal, Brown said, “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.”

Brown directed the ODE and OHA to partner with schools and communities to ground their work in sound science as well as public health and safety procedures. She also called for educators and school staff to be a priority for vaccinations, and for rapid testing to available on-site as a means of safeguarding against COVID-19 outbreaks in schools.  

The governor called for Oregon’s school metrics which measure a local community’s spread of the coronavirus to be advisory rather than mandatory effective Jan. 1. Thereafter, the decision to resume in-person instruction will be made locally, district by district, and school by school, with schools working in close consultation with their local public health authority, as well as the ODE and OHA Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance. Brown has given a review completion deadline of Jan. 19, 2021, to allow schools time to review not only health and safety concerns, but to assure that school metrics are updated. 

Brown said, “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. 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.”

By Sally K Lehman