Parents Rally for Safe Return to In-Person Learning

“Zoom Is Not School.” “Open Our Schools.” “Bring Me Back to the Classroom.” “Disney World Is Open But I Can’t Go to School.”

These and other messages are expected to be on display today at a planned rally at Clackamas Town Center, protesting the governor’s strict coronavirus metrics that have prevented most school districts — including Canby’s — from returning to in-person instruction this fall.

The event is being organized by Clack to School, a parent-led effort calling on state leaders to reopen classrooms “in a hybrid, Covid-safe model.”

“We are advocating that students and teachers be given the choice to return to school as early as October, adhering to the safety guidelines in place for proper masking, hygiene and social distancing,” organizers said in a press release. “To do this, we would like leaders to re-evaluate the metrics, return more autonomy to local districts, and examine other reasonable, science-based, and safety-minded considerations.”

Clack to School is a relatively new group, which began on Sept. 19 when several local moms began discussing the difficulties their children were having with online learning.

One of the founders, Jennifer Dale, said her efforts stem from advocacy on behalf of one of her three children, a daughter with Down syndrome who has struggled with distance learning.

“We’ve spent three weeks with my daughter’s team trying to find solutions, and there’s no good solution,” Dale tells the Current. “She learns best from peers, through their support and role modeling. That can’t be replicated in the online environment.”

They reached out to other parents and found similar concerns, ranging from technology failures to emotional distress to disabilities that prevented kids from using the online learning platform effectively.

The group’s Facebook following has grown to nearly 3,000 in less than two weeks.

“We just want students … to have the choice to access a learning environment that supports their needs,” Dale says. “For many of our vulnerable students, in-person learning supports their needs and the online platform does not. Parents are concerned. Families are struggling and kids deserve better.”

The governor’s threshold for reopening schools relies on state and countywide coronavirus metrics, including that the county has 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.

Clack to School says that’s too strict.

“We prioritized reopening the economy; we should be prioritizing reopening schools,” Dale says. “We would like Gov. Brown to revisit the metrics that are keeping schools closed and restore local control for the districts to begin the process. Right now, local leaders have their hands tied by the governor’s orders.”

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.

Parents are asking that the governor begin a conversation with about “finding a real solution,” and identify collaborative solutions toward getting children safely back into the classroom.

They stress that they are not against protecting the health and safety of students, teachers and staff.

“We recognize the fear and dangers of Covid-19. But there’s an equal and devastating consequence of keeping our kids locked inside,” Dale says. “We can’t all go back tomorrow, but it’s time to start a phased re-entry recognizing the importance of safety and the value of connection and community offered by school.

“Many kids are safer at school where they have friendships, peers and teachers as amazing role models.”

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