Gov Eases Restrictions, Hopes to See Schools Reopen by February

Oregon is easing statewide coronavirus restrictions placed on school districts with the goal of seeing more students return to in-person instruction by February, the governor announced Wednesday.

Saying her goal was to “return as many Oregon students to the classroom as safely as possible in the new year,” Governor Kate Brown is directing state departments to implement several new policy initiatives that would put more school districts on track to return to in-person instruction, especially for elementary students, by Feb. 15, 2021.

“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,” Brown said. “Our students’ learning, resilience, and future well-being depend on all of us.”

The governor noted in a letter to the directors that the Feb. 15 goal is within reach for school districts, with the help of new federal and state resources and “if communities continue to work together to stop the spread of Covid-19 over the next several weeks.”

Brown also announced that Oregon’s school metrics, the measures of local community spread that guide when schools may reopen in-person instruction, will be advisory rather than mandatory, effective Jan. 1.

Moving forward, decisions to resume in-person instruction must be made locally, district by district, school by school, the governor’s office said in a release, urging that teachers, school staff, parents and students should be engaged with school boards and administrators in this decision-making process.

Many states, including Washington, have advisory metrics.

“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,” Brown said.

“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.”

About $109 million in CARES Act funds were distributed to public schools in 2020. The Governor also dedicated $28 million for technology and internet assistance for students and schools.

Both the Legislature and Congress have dedicated new resources for safe school reopenings in 2021, including an additional $50 million approved during Monday’s special session to support schools in the transition to in-person instruction.

Lawmakers also passed legislation this week providing reasonable liability protections for public and private schools during the remainder of the Covid-19 emergency.

“Each and every Oregonian must do our part now to be disciplined and vigilant, to socially distance, wear facial coverings, avoid large gatherings, and follow other necessary public health requirements,” Brown said.

If the coronavirus continues to spread at the rates it has earlier this month, the governor warned that 90% of Oregon’s students may be forced to spend the remainder of their school year “locked out … from their classrooms and youth activities where they best learn, grow, and find connection, safety, and support.”

With educators and school staff to be prioritized for Covid-19 vaccinations, the governor also directed the agencies to work with schools to provide on-site, rapid testing as a safeguard to quickly address symptomatic individuals and those with potential exposure to the virus.

Finally, consistent with ongoing updates to the ODE and OHA Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance, the governor directed the agencies to review the guidance to ensure that all necessary health and safety procedures and protocols are included to allow students the maximum access to in-person instruction in keeping with health and safety standards. In order to give school districts time to plan for any changes, this review must be completed by Jan. 19.

Any proposed updates to Oregon school metrics will be reviewed by the Governor’s Medical Advisory Panel and the Healthy Schools Reopening Council in January.

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