Oregon health and education leaders on Friday asked families to think twice before setting up neighborhood learning pods, saying it could spread COVID-19 and, ultimately, keep kids from returning to the classroom.
“Multi-family learning groups may slow the process of returning to school by creating more opportunities for spread among students and families,” said ODE Director Colt Gill. “These groups also risk leaving out students who are already underserved by our school system. I deeply hope that as students and parents grapple with multi-family learning, they take into account the health and equity implications of these gatherings.”
As school districts across the state begin the year with online instruction, many parents have been working together to set up smaller learning pods for their kids.
The learning pods or “micro-schools” allow parents to co-op child care and educational resources as they navigate the uncertainties of the online learning experience.
In a news release Friday, the ODE warned “as families choose to come together either informally or through community organizations, COVID-19 is more likely to spread and could lengthen the time before schools can return to in-person instruction. Even a small group of people can lead to a large number of cases.”
“Oregonians coming together for any purpose, including learning, need to continue to be cautious.”
– Dr. Dean Sidelinger
“The longer it takes for all schools to resume in-person instruction, the greater the possibility that gaps will widen for families in rural communities and communities of color,” Gill said.
The Oregon Health Authority is reminding families that it continues to be important to limit or avoid gatherings, to wear face coverings when outside the home, and to make efforts to reduce exposure to people outside the household, even in stable group settings.
“Because it was a statement from people in authority saying ‘Hey, we understand this is happening and we just want everyone to be safe.’ And here’s links to all those resources to do that,” said Caroline Crawford Macdonell of Scout Community, a Bend-based learning pod organization service. “It probably also raised a lot of questions because it’s confusing and it’s a lot of information.”
In-person learning groups that neglect to follow these public health guidelines increase the likelihood of the spread of COVID-19.
“Oregonians coming together for any purpose, including learning, need to continue to be cautious,” said Dean Sidelinger, M.D., M.S.Ed., state health officer and state epidemiologist. “Coming together in any group, even small groups to facilitate learning, brings additional risk. Many outbreaks in Oregon have been traced to multi-family gatherings of various types.”
But Macdonnel says the risks can be managed if all students and parents involved in a learning pod wear masks, maintain distance and wash their hands frequently.
“That’s part of why I wanted to start Scout because I know that there are families in need and teachers and skilled professionals that want to help and there’s a lot to sort out. That’s what we are here to do is support those teachers, those providers so that they everything that needs to be done.”