Oregon legislators send letter to Brown: Open schools immediately

Oregon House and Senate Republicans sent a letter to Governor Kate Brown requesting she utilize the full authority of the Office of the Governor to intervene to reopen schools to full, in-person learning.

The letter said the legislators are, “deeply concerned about the detrimental impacts ongoing school closures are having on Oregon students.”

In the letter Thursday night, lawmakers cited a nearly 40-percent increase in calls to suicide hotlines among youth as a concern.

Local Central Oregon leaders include Senator Tim Knopp, Representative Vikki-Breese Iverson, and Representative Jack Zika.

Central Oregon Daily News spoke to Rep. Zika by phone Thursday evening, he said they’ve been getting e-mails from parents all across the state saying they’re worried about their kids’ learning and their mental health.

Currently, many Central Oregon schools are seeing a hybrid learning situation at local school districts.

Here’s the continued text of the letter:

“We have a collective responsibility to ensure vulnerable children receive high-quality instruction and a well-rounded educational experience. However, many students have not stepped into a classroom for nearly a year and they are feeling the academic, social, and emotional consequences. Students are falling behind academically, which is jeopardizing their futures. There is a growing body of evidence that virtual instruction is inadequate and school closures are hurting our student’s ability to learn, their social development, and their mental health.

Our state’s collective future depends on and demands that we not allow political considerations to get in the way of educating our next generation of leaders, innovators, business owners, and changemakers. Yet, a McKinsey & Company analysis suggests that school closures are hurting our children’s future prospects. They estimate that the average K–12 student in the United States could lose $61,000 to $82,000 in lifetime earnings (in constant 2020 dollars), or the equivalent of a year of full-time work, solely as a result of COVID-19–related learning losses. These costs are significant—and worse for racial minorities. While they estimate white students would earn $1,348 a year less (a 1.6 percent reduction) over a 40-year working life, the figure is $2,186 a year (a 3.3 percent reduction) for black students and $1,809 (3.0 percent) for Hispanics.

Students are facing challenges associated with mental health, peer suicides, and social isolation while not at school. Our kids need to be back in the classroom to have the necessary support. Last year, we saw nearly a 40% increase in calls to suicide hotlines among youth. A recent survey shows that over half of 11-17-year-olds reported having suicidal thoughts regularly.

Notably, the effects of school closures are being disproportionately felt by women, as more than 3 million have dropped out of the workforce.

In 2011 the Legislature vested the Office of the Governor the powers of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Those powers were exercised when Executive Order 20-08 was signed to shut down schools. We are requesting utilization of those same authorities and direct school districts to return to full in-person instruction with proper safety protocols.

The state was recently allocated $499 million from the federal government, much of which was intended to get children back into the classroom. We find no reason that this funding windfall is not sufficient to reopen schools, especially when an ever-increasing body of evidence supports that it is safe – even without the vaccination of teachers.

In order to support families and give our children the best education and chance at success, we respectfully request you take decisive action and reopen Oregon schools for full in-person instruction immediately. “

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