Parents Rally to Reopen Schools: ‘We Want to Have Choices’

Dozens of parents took to the street along Southeast 82nd near Clackamas Town Center Thursday to rally for schools to safely reopen.

Parents and students waved homemade signs bearing slogans such as “Kids Deserve Better,” “Let Us Go to School” and “We Can Safely Open!” At times, they chanted “Clack to School,” the name of the countywide group founded by local moms just a few weeks ago.

Among the attendees was Canby mother Brooke Toma, who was there with her Baker Prairie Middle School seventh-grader.

“It was important for me to show up,” she tells The Canby Current.

Toma says she believes the Canby School District is doing a great job “under the circumstances,” but she — and many of the parents behind Clack to School — think the state’s coronavirus guidelines for reopening schools have been set needlessly high.

“We are trying to send a message to the governor that the metrics to return to school are nearly unattainable,” Toma says. “And I feel that ‘Zoom School’ is inequitable, unsustainable and unacceptable. It is cumbersome and lackluster.”

Kids need hands-on learning to seek their full potential, she says, and she worries the consequences from this era of distance learning will linger long after the coronavirus is a thing of the past.

“I believe that all children are going to fall behind, but especially the most vulnerable including students on IEPs, ELL, and younger students,” she says. “For some students, it might be working but certainly not for all.”

Clack to School stresses that their goal is to reopen schools safely, in a hybrid model that still allows for limiting the sizes of classes and the number of students in a school building at any one time.

They also want in-person instruction to remain an option — not a mandate for students and parents who are uncomfortable with it.

“We want to have choices,” Toma says. “Physical isolation is detrimental to mental health and many kinds need the extra supports that are readily available in a school building.”

The current coronavirus metrics for reintroducing students to classrooms would require counties to have seen 10 or fewer new cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 people over 7 days for 3 weeks in a row, and test positivity of 5% or less in both the county and state for the same period.

Though the Covid-19 outlook has improved somewhat since June, schools in Clackamas County remains nowhere particularly close to meeting those numbers.

After a low of 20.5 cases per 100,000 residents in the first week of September — which is still more than double what it would need to be to meet the state’s guidelines for reopening classrooms — Clackamas County’s weekly case load is back up in the 35 range, where it has been for most of the summer.

The numbers are slightly better in terms of the percentage of tests that come back positive for the coronavirus. Clackamas County has been below the 5% threshold since July, but the state has hit that mark only a few times in the past three months. Currently, Oregon’s rate is at 6.3% and climbing.

“As of this week, Clackamas County still does not meet the metrics required to return to our buildings,” Canby School District Superintendent Trip Goodall said in a newsletter to families. “We are just as eager as you are to return to in-person learning, but must follow these metrics and take precautions so we can get back into our schools safely.”

Asked about the rally this week, the Oregon Department of Education provided media outlets a statement saying there are currently “no conversations about changing metrics.”

“Families have a right to voice their opinion and ODE knows this is a challenging time for students and families,” the department said.

ODE and the Oregon Health Authority are partnering to resolve challenges, review best practices and support education and health leaders across the state.

“The kinds of disruption and impacts families and kids are experiencing are a real impact of responding to Covid-19,” ODE said. “We will be the first ones cheering to see the metrics come back down in counties across Oregon.”

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