Parents Form Coalition to Push for Safe School Reopenings

A network of parent groups, including the Clackamas County-based Clack to School, have united to push the state to allow schools to resume in-person learning by Jan. 6, 2021 — exactly 300 days since most of Oregon’s approximately 600,000 students set foot inside a classroom.

The new coalition, ED300, represents the “first joint effort by tens of thousands of parents from Portland to southern and eastern Oregon,” its organizers say.

The group Clack to School, which includes some Canby School District parents and students, began organizing in September along with other grassroots organizations to advocate on behalf of students.

“We witnessed learning losses, technology failures, repercussions of no school-based activities, accessibility issues for students with disabilities, and significant mental and emotional health challenges for too many students,” the group said in a press release Monday.

The group is calling on Gov. Kate Brown to “remove the state’s barriers,” and allow local superintendents and school boards, along with lawmakers, more agency to engage parents and implement a “safe and prompt return to in-person learning and co-curricular activities for those who choose,” said Rene Gonzalez, a parent of three school-aged children and spokesperson for ED300 and Opening PDX Schools.

Data from numerous states and countries show schools are not significant sources of spread for the novel coronavirus, the group’s supporters say.

And while the state and county are grappling with an unprecedented surge in new cases over the past two weeks — there is no evidence that open schools would worsen these spikes.

On the other hand, the group says, the mental, social and educational impacts on children and employment-related difficulties for parents that distance learning have wrought is “now a crisis that must be addressed.”

“The learning losses attributable to remote education are not recoverable for many students with learning challenges,” said Jennifer Dale, spokesperson for Clack to School and parent of three school-aged children, including a daughter receiving special education services.

The group’s renewed efforts come barely a week after the state significantly eased its metrics for resuming in-person learning (though the recent surge appears to have placed those standards as far out of reach in Clackamas County as the previous ones, at least for the time being).

That’s not enough, says the group. They are calling for the elimination of statewide mandates and county metrics altogether, in favor of guidelines that facilitate “tailored, community-level approaches.

“We are out of alignment with 42 other states that have guidelines rather than mandates,” the group says. “Oregon’s overly blunt mandates are prolonging closures and harming every age student, from early learners to high school students who need support in their journeys to higher education.”

The group also calls for greater transparency from school districts about enrollment data, student engagement, grading outcomes and attendance so parents can make informed decisions about in-person learning and remote options.

And, many working parents are looking warily ahead to Dec. 31 — the likely expiration date of employer paid leave provided through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

“Schools will likely reopen in hybrid models,” says ED300. “Families must understand how state lawmakers will support Oregon’s families and parents.”

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