SALEM, Ore. — Governor Kate Brown is directing Oregon public schools to reopen for in-person instruction by a pair of deadlines in March and April. The Governor's office said on Friday that she will issue an executive order requiring schools to offer "universal access" for in-person learning by March 29 for K-5 students and April 19 for grade 6-12 students.
"Thanks to the smart choices Oregonians have made, our COVID-19 numbers have declined. All but six counties now meet or exceed Oregon’s advisory metrics for a return to in-person, hybrid learning for all K-12 grade levels,” said Governor Brown. "And, five of those counties meet the advisory metrics for a return to elementary school."
While many districts have already approached in-person learning on their own internally devised schedules since Brown made her COVID-19 metrics "advisory" at the end of December, some districts have lagged behind. Reopening schools has become a refrain for Oregon Republican lawmakers, who released a letter on Thursday urging Brown to "utilize the full authority" of her office to immediately reopen schools.
"We have a collective responsibility to ensure vulnerable children receive high-quality instruction and a well-rounded educational experience," House and Senate Republicans wrote in the joint letter. "However, many students have not stepped into a classroom for nearly a year and they are feeling the academic, social, and emotional consequences. Students are falling behind academically, which is jeopardizing their futures."
With educators, in some cases, still in line for the COVID-19 vaccine, teacher's unions have resisted an abrupt return to full in-person learning. However, the Oregon Education Association and local unions indicated on Friday that they would support the Governor's timeline.
"We hear, understand, and share the frustration expressed by many in our communities about the uncertainty this pandemic has caused for our public education system, and the long-standing educational disparities that continue to be exacerbated by reopening plans that fail to truly center student equity," the OEA said in a statement. "We urge our local school districts to continue to work in good faith with local educators to craft plans that will truly serve all of our students, and we are committed to expanding in-person instruction at our schools this spring."
“The science is very, very clear: with proper safety measures in place, there is a low risk of COVID-19 transmission in school," Governor Brown continued. "Oregon parents can be confident about sending their children back to a classroom learning environment.”
Brown's office said that after the weeks of March 29 and April 19, all public schools in Oregon will be operating under a fully on-site or hybrid model, "when counties meet or exceed the state's advisory COVID-19 metrics." Students or parents who want to remain in comprehensive distance learning will be accommodated.
"Comprehensive distance learning for all will be an option for school districts when community transmission rates of COVID-19 warrant a transition, as determined by state or local public health directives," Brown's office said.
The Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Department of Education will issue new guidance on the directives by March 19.
“Closing schools in Oregon is a decision I will never forget," Brown said. "Parents, educators, school staff, but especially students have come so far while navigating the challenges of this pandemic. Welcoming students back to every school across Oregon will be a milestone worth celebrating."