MEDFORD, Ore. — The Medford School Board is poised to vote on a resolution that would urge Governor Kate Brown to further loosen COVID-19 metrics for schools, bringing more students into classrooms.
Governor Brown and state education officials decided at the end of October to loosen the original metrics that governed school districts' ability to provide in-person classes, removing state-level requirements and altering the way county-level metrics are measured.
Regardless, coronavirus case rates in Jackson County have been consistently too high for those changes to make any major impact. In most southern Oregon counties, surging cases have forced many districts to retreat back to comprehensive distance learning.
The CDC has gradually backtracked on the risk posed by COVID-19 transmission in schools as more data about the virus is gathered, suggesting that children are at lower risk of having severe symptoms of the virus, or of presenting an asymptomatic case.
"To be sure, the best available evidence from countries that have reopened schools indicates that COVID-19 poses low risks to school-aged children – at least in areas with low community transmission," the agency says in its most recent guidance. "That said, the body of evidence is growing that children of all ages are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection and, contrary to early reports, might play a role in transmission.
"The many benefits of in-person schooling should be weighed against the risks posed by COVID-19 spread. Of key significance, in-person learning is in the best interest of students, when compared to virtual learning. Application and adherence to mitigation measures provided in this document and similar to those implemented at essential workplaces can help schools reopen and stay open safely for in-person learning."
In the same vein, the Medford School Board plans to vote on a resolution Thursday night that, if passed, would be sent to Governor Brown. The resolution asks Brown to again revisit Oregon's metrics and "prioritize the return of all students in grades K-5, with an ultimate goal of returning all students to school."
Though COVID-19's relatively low severity in younger people has been apparent for some time, a major concern posed by reopening schools stems from the increased risk to teachers and staff, many of whom are older or are likely to have vulnerabilities to the virus.
School Board member Cynthia Wright says that MSD Superintendent Bret Champion has been in contact with the Medford Education Association, which represents teachers in the district. Wright says she believes that teachers "want what's best for our students," and have seen the negative impact of distance learning.
A draft of the resolution provided to NewsWatch 12 reads as follows:
WHEREAS, the vision of the Medford School District (MSD) is ALL are learning and learning is for ALL, and we accomplish this vision by ensuring ALL own their present and future, ALL are known and challenged, ALL achieve their potential, and ALL options are open and hopeful;
WHEREAS, educating students well, including focusing on their mental, emotional, physical, and social wellbeing, while continuing to safeguard the health of our students, our staff, and our community is our highest priority, and there are undeniable educational and mental health setbacks to all students due to comprehensive distance learning;
WHEREAS, elementary students are mastering foundational learning skills that will be required for secondary grades and beyond, and the impact of prolonged distance learning may impede their ability to do so;
WHEREAS, students experiencing poverty and homelessness, students experiencing disabilities, and students learning a second language are being harmed disproportionately by comprehensive distance learning;
WHEREAS, teachers are the number one reporters of abuse and abuse reports are down significantly in our county and state due to comprehensive distance learning;
WHEREAS, connections with caring adults have been proven to play a significant role in healthy cognitive development of children and youth;
WHEREAS, pediatricians have weighed the substantial harm to children and parents from keeping schools closed and recommend offering in-person learning;
WHEREAS, our district is committed to creating a safe learning environment with appropriate safety measures for all;
WHEREAS, MSD has created an online school option for all ages for families wishing to keep students at home;
WHEREAS, findings from other states and countries where schools reopened are demonstrating that schools are not super spreader events, but in fact, serve as guardians against transmission because social distancing and masking are adhered to, contact tracing is performed, and robust communication with local public health authority occurs;
WHEREAS, MSD has proven our commitment to work with Jackson County Public Health (JCPH) to ensure we are following all safety protocols and are able to quickly identify staff, students, and cohorts who have been exposed to or are confirmed to have COVID-19, connect them with medical professionals, remove them and any “close contacts” from the school community, thereby helping slow the spread in the community.
NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, the Medford School Board wishes to thank Governor Brown for the recent reevaluation of the metrics in Oregon which allow over 100,000 more students to attend in-person learning; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, the Medford School Board urges Governor Brown to reevaluate the metrics for reopening, incorporating scientific data emerging from within the United States and other countries where school reopening has not resulted in increased community spread of COVID-19; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, the Medford School Board urges Governor Brown and local governments to put the welfare and education of children first in Oregon by adopting and enforcing measures to reduce community spread and prioritize funding for K-12 education to manage the increased costs of in-person instruction during the pandemic; and
BE IT HEREBY RESOLVED, the Medford School Board urges Governor Brown to prioritize the return of all students in grades K-5, with an ultimate goal of returning all students to school, by establishing metrics that follow the science and align with many states and countries which have prioritized education first and foremost by reopening schools or delegating authority to local districts to decide when it is appropriate for these students to safely return to school.
ADOPTED this _____ Day of December, 2020