Oregon Parents, Students Rally to Reopen Schools

Correction: An earlier version of this article misquoted Melanie Gabriel and mischaracterized her testimony before the Oregon State Senate. It was oral testimony that she read, not a written letter she submitted. We regret the errors.

Dozens of frustrated parents, students and even teachers, from Clackamas County and across the state, gathered outside Revolution Hall in Portland Sunday to call for the reopening of K-12 schools and return to safe, in-person learning.

The rally was spearheaded by ED 300, a grassroots, parent-led coalition calling for optional in-person learning to resume by Jan. 6, 2021 — exactly 300 days since most of Oregon’s approximately 600,000 students set foot inside a classroom.

One of the member groups is Clack to School, which includes some Canby School District parents and students and began organizing in September along with other grassroots organizations to advocate on behalf of students.

“We understand that the cases and deaths are going up and that’s tragic,” said Jennifer Dale, spokesperson for Clack to School and co-organizer of Sunday’s event. “It’s a terrible thing. However, it’s an equally devastating issue seeing what’s going on with our kids and keeping them home.”

Dale is a mother of three school-aged children, including a daughter receiving special education services, and has watched her struggle with distance learning.

“We know that not every kid and not every teacher wants to go back to school right away, but what we are asking for is the option for some of our students who are struggling,” Dale said.

Another speaker at Sunday afternoon’s rally was Melanie Gabriel, an eighth-grader who said she dropped out of school last year because distance learning was just too much for her.

On Sunday, she read a copy of oral testimony that she presented during a state Senate committee hearing later this week, likening the experience of distance learning to being shut inside of a glass box, alone.

“You have placed the burden of this pandemic on the children to carry and we are done!” she said. “We will not carry your burden anymore. We are going to make a stand, and we won’t stop until we are back in school where we belong. I’m asking you to shatter our glass boxes and set us free. ”

The coalition, ED 300, is asking the state for four things:

1) Mandate in‐person options for every Oregon child by January 6, 2021.

2) Prioritize teachers and school staff in programs for both vaccination and Covid-19 testing by clearly identifying school employees as essential workers.

3) Focus on ventilation in schools, adopting low‐cost solutions in the short‐term while providing funding for long‐term improvements.

4) Open school grounds to children.

The group stressed that it is seeking a safe, science-based approach to reopening schools, and simply wants parents, students — and teachers — to have the choice of returning if they want to. Those who want to stay home should be able to.

Similar rallies were also held in New York and Georgia.

At the end of October, Governor Kate Brown and the Oregon Health Authority loosened the coronavirus metrics for reopenings schools on a county-by-county basis.

However, even those less restrictive guidelines remain well out of reach for Clackamas County — at least for the time being.

In a letter to families last week, Canby Superintendant Trip Goodall said he is hopeful the district may transition to some in-person instruction in classrooms early next year.

“We are hopeful that after winter break, we will see a drop in cases and we can begin the transition to in-person learning,” Goodall said. “That will only happen if we all work together to stop the spread of the virus.”

He encouraged parents and students to continue to diligently follow the now-standard public health advice: wear a mask, wash your hands often, and maintain a safe, physical distance from people outside your household.

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