PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Department of Education on Tuesday issued updated guidance for the return of in-person learning, which includes a requirement that schools provide on-site COVID-19 testing.
The guidance is the most recent push for students to return to school. Earlier this month, Gov. Kate Brown set a Feb. 15 goal for returning more students to the classroom, with a focus on elementary students.
“It’s absolutely critical that we return Oregon students to in-person instruction as quickly as possible,” Brown tweeted. “The educational, social, emotional, mental, and physical health of so many students is tied to their schools and to the personalized support that educators provide.”
Before winter break, less than 10% of Oregon’s estimated 580,000 students were receiving some form of in-person instruction, according to data from the Oregon Department of Education.
At the start of the year, Brown gave local school districts the power to decide when to return students to in-person learning.
“We are providing school leaders with the information they need to make local decisions about returning to in-person instruction,” Colt Gill, the director of the state’s department of education, said on Tuesday. “We all know that in-person instruction provides our children and families with access to an equitable education.”
Updated advisory metrics now allow for in-person classes for elementary students at higher levels of community case rates than previously recommended.
A new requirement is that schools provide on-site COVID-19 testing for symptomatic students and staff members and for those who have had a known exposure to a positive case.
The department of education said that as school officials make decisions about returning to in-person instruction, they must also continue to focus on county case counts and following safety protocols — wearing face coverings, distancing and frequent handwashing.
In addition, Brown said that $500 million in federal relief will be used to implement safety standards and buy personal protective equipment for staff and students.
Leaders of ED300, a coalition of Oregon parents and educators advocating for reopening schools, said that although they are encouraged by the recent revisions they remain concerned about the “slow pace of returning middle and high school students” to in-person learning.
“We continue to be very concerned that the state of Oregon is writing off a generation of middle schoolers and high-schoolers,” said Rene Gonzalez, the co-founder of ED300. “Hopefully the state and districts will find a way to fully serve these children who have been neglected by the state for much of the last year, in particular by rigorously returning sports, and co-curricular activities as well as other safe social activities and academic counseling.”
As part of returning students to school, Brown said vaccinating educators and staff is a top priority.
On Friday the Democrat announced that educators will begin being vaccinated Jan. 25, two weeks ahead of Oregonians who are 80 or older.
“I made this decision based on the fact that we have got to get our children back in school,” Brown said at a press conference Friday. The governor choked up as she spoke about the topic.
“Schools are a place of social interaction,” she said. “They are a place where young people can get their behavioral health and emotional supports met. They are also a place where our kids can get educated.”
Cline is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.