Almost one year following the shutdown of public schools statewide, Governor Kate Brown announced today she is issuing an executive order that calls on all Oregon school districts to offer full in-person or hybrid instruction to K-5 students by March 29, and grades 6-12 by April 19.
In a letter sent to the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and Oregon Department of Education (ODE), Brown commended the hard work of Oregonians who have heeded state safety mandates. Because of this—and thanks to the state's vaccine rollout that has prioritized teachers—positive COVID-19 cases have dropped to the point in most counties where she believes schools can be safely reopened.
"Since December," the governor wrote, "COVID-19 case rates and positivity rates have greatly improved across the state and Oregon continues to fare better than almost every state in the nation with regards to infection and mortality rates. Today, all but six Oregon counties meet or exceed Oregon’s advisory metrics for in-person, hybrid instruction for all K-12 grade levels, and five of these counties meet the metrics for resuming in-person, hybrid instruction for students in elementary grades."
“The science is very, very clear," Brown continued. "With proper safety measures in place, there is a low risk of COVID-19 transmission in school."
Because they are in the lowest COVID risk group, children in kindergarten to grade 5 will return to in-class learning first, by March 29, while middle and high school students will soon follow, by April 19. Schools are required to abide by health and safety rules as set down by the Ready Schools, Safe Learners (RSSL) program. However, distance learning options will still be available to students who fall in certain groups, such as if a student or family member is "in a high-risk category for COVID-19 infection," or if the student's community is suddenly overwhelmed by an increase of COVID cases.
In late January, teachers were given vaccine priority over seniors, as laid out by Brown's plan, in anticipation of getting students back in school as soon as possible. A February report from the CDC advised states on ways to safely return children to classes. But the various labor unions for Oregon's teachers have made it very clear that their members would only return to in-school classes when it was safe to do so.
The question still remains, after a year of the pandemic, whether a majority of parents will feel comfortable sending their children back to in-class instruction. In various surveys sent to parents by their school districts, reaction has been mixed. Many worry about students bringing home the virus to family members who fall within the high-risk category, while others are concerned about the children who have struggled with at-home learning and fear for their mental health.