Parents, Students Plan OMSI March to Demand Schools Reopen

A grassroots coalition of parents and students — including some from Canby and Clackamas County — are planning a march to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) in protest of the continued closures of most public schools to in-person learning.

The organizing group, Open Schools USA, chose OMSI as a symbol for the event because the leading science museum has been closed to the public since Nov. 15 to comply with the governor’s latest executive orders.

At the museum, organizers say they will hold a vigil and moment of silence “for the children who saw no other escape but to take their own lives.”

Before Christmas, Governor Kate Brown and other state officials announced that they would ease restrictions and implement several new policy initiatives aimed at putting more school districts on track to reopen safely by Feb. 15.

However, at the same time, Brown also said the state’s metrics for reopening classrooms would become advisory — rather than mandatory — on Jan. 1, essentially putting the decisions and responsibility in the hands of local school boards and administrators.

Open Schools USA’s founders, 13-year-old Melanie Gabriel and Michelle Morales-Walker, decried the move as “cowardice” and inequitable, because “far too many districts will refuse to open.”

Instead of simply allowing school districts to reopen on their own schedules after nine months of forced distance learning, Gabriel and Morales-Walker said the action should be mandated.

“The state governors forced school doors shut,” the two said in a statement. “It is they who should force them to reopen.”

Gabriel founded Open Schools USA with the support of Morales-Walker, a family friend, after her own struggles with distance learning forced her to drop out of school.

The group will meet for the march at 1 p.m. Jan. 3 at the Tilikum Crossing in Portland. Open Schools says the rally is being coordinated with similar events by groups in other states across the nation.

While Open Schools USA seemed to feel the action by Governor Brown in December was too little, too late, other parent and student advocacy groups had previously hailed the move.

“This is a win and clearly demonstrates that when families come together and advocate for what they know is right, and advocate for the very best outcomes for their children, they can make change,” said Jennifer Dale in a Dec. 23 press release.

Dale is a Clackamas County mother of three school-age children and co‐organizer of the parent coalition ED300 and Clack to School, which has worked since mid‐September to bring in‐person options back to Oregon schools.

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