Schools group meets; Brown says fall ‘will not look like a normal year’

Gov. Kate Brown on Thursday conceded “this fall will not look like a normal year” as local school districts continue to work on plans for a return to the classroom – whether that’s in person or online.

“Many, if not most Oregon students are in districts that will focus on online distance learning or have a hybrid model of some online education and some in-person classroom time,” Brown said in a statement following a meeting Wednesday of the state’s Healthy Schools Reopening Council.

Members of the council received an update on public health COVID-19 metrics from representatives of the Oregon Health Authority.

Acknowledging that variations exist in COVID-19 spread county-by-county, council members began consideration of what specific metrics should guide local decisions about when and whether to shift from in-person to remote instruction during the school year.

Bend-La Pine and Redmond have released preliminary plans for a return to the classroom that call for in-person instruction for elementary students and a hybrid online/in-person model for older kids.

The plans aren’t set in stone, and as COVID cases continue to rise across the state, the likelihood increases of a fully online experience.

“As the Governor has noted, if we continue to see COVID-19 case counts, community spread, and hospitalizations rise, districts across the state will be forced to resort to extended periods of remote instruction throughout the school year,” said Charles Boyle, a spokesman for the governor. “That is not the outcome we want to see. It is critical that Oregonians continue to wear face coverings, practice physical distancing, regularly wash their hands, and avoid large gatherings, or we could quickly find that a safe return to school is beyond reach.”

They also discussed the specific needs for those students who do enter school buildings and the educators who serve them, including how to implement health and safety measures to limit the spread of the disease, such as the use of face coverings for students, how many students should be in a classroom at one time, and strategies for transportation with school bus capacity limited by physical distancing.

The Oregon Department of Education’s Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidelines for schools and districts calls for many safety measures, but it only requires maks to be worn by teachers and staff.

They are recommended for 6th-12th graders.

She said she will push school officials to make sure underserved and marginalized students get the support they need.

“I am pushing school officials to make sure underserved and marginalized students––our kids of color and our low-income kids––get the support and opportunities they need. We cannot allow our response to this pandemic to increase racial disparities in educational outcomes.

In addition, the council discussed expanded training and support for educators, ensuring all students have ways to access learning and critical support services under hybrid and comprehensive distance learning models, and providing more flexibility for a longer school year.

Student representatives on the council offered compelling examples of the ways schools and educators are vital to student mental health and well-being, and the difficulty of maintaining those connections and support when school buildings are closed.

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