SALEM, Ore. — Governor Kate Brown said on Thursday that in-person learning has more than doubled since December, and "most" Oregon elementary school students will be in classrooms by the end of April.
“Eight weeks ago, I directed the Oregon Department of Education and the Oregon Health Authority to put more schools on track to return students to in-person instruction, with a focus on our youngest learners," Governor Brown said in a statement. "Since then, thanks to the incredible work of our superintendents, school board members, educators, parents, and community members, Oregon has more than doubled the number of students learning in-person, to 116,749."
By March, Brown said, more districts plan to have elementary school students on hybrid instruction — including the state's second-largest district, Salem-Keizer, which includes more than 17,000 elementary students. Brown anticipated that most Oregon elementary students would be in classrooms again by the end of April.
“I am thrilled to see so many of Oregon’s school districts and teachers working hard to help return our children to the most effective learning environment: in-person, personalized education," Brown continued. "Now, middle and high school students must get the same chance, so that all students have the opportunity to benefit from in-person instruction, regardless of the community in which they live."
Brown said that the state is using $500 million in federal funding to bolster safety measures in schools and purchase PPE for students and staff. According to her, all educators who want the COVID-19 vaccine "will soon be fully vaccinated."
It's difficult to know for certain how many educators have already received at least their first doses. As of February 17, the state reported that 707,241 doses of a vaccine had been administered throughout the state, with 205,901 people fully vaccinated.
Members of Phase 1a were first to be eligible for the vaccine under Oregon's plan — a group estimated at roughly 400,000 people. Educators and childcare workers officially became eligible on January 25, and the group includes roughly 152,000 people.
“The science is clear: with proper health and safety protocols in place, there is very little risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools," Brown said, citing the latest CDC guidelines released last week. "As districts implement the more than 160 health and safety protocols outlined in Oregon’s Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance, we can reopen our school buildings in a way that protects students, staff, and our communities."
“When I made my announcement in December, many thought in-person elementary was far beyond reach," Brown continued. "At the height of our winter surge, COVID-19 case counts were high and hospital capacity was threatened. Since then, thanks to the smart choices of Oregonians, our case rates, hospitalizations, and deaths from COVID-19 have steadily declined, and even our largest school districts, including in the tri-county area, today meet or exceed Oregon’s advisory school metrics for hybrid in-person instruction.
“Our students only grow up once. We cannot let the school year end with the class of 2021 never having set foot in Oregon high schools. I know that some have had their doubts. But we can do this, by continuing to work together. It is within our power to provide every Oregon student the opportunity for in-person instruction this school year.”