REMARKS AS PREPARED
Governor Kate Brown
April 8, 2020
Good afternoon everyone.
Thank you for joining us today. I’m here with Colt Gill, Director of the Oregon Department of Education, and Dr. Dana Hargunani, the Chief Medical Officer at the Oregon Health Authority.
It wasn’t even a full month ago, though I know it feels like years ago, that I ordered all Oregon schools to close temporarily in an effort to help stop the spread of coronavirus in Oregon.
Since then, we’ve implemented further orders asking Oregonians to stay home to the maximum extent possible, closing down restaurants and bars, and requiring social distancing at other businesses across the state.
I know how hard this is on every single Oregonian. And I thank you for your sacrifice.
I also know that the measures we’ve put into place are necessary actions right now to save lives.
I wish I could make this easier for everyone. And I wish I could eliminate the frustration that so many of us are feeling right now. My top priority will always be the health and safety of Oregonians. That is in the forefront of my mind with every decision I make.
To the best of my ability, I want to provide Oregonians with as much information as I have, as quickly as possible — so that you may have some certainty during these difficult times.
We want to give you the ability to make plans for your children’s education, and for everybody’s health and safety. Especially because I know that social distancing orders have required huge sacrifices for our kids. And that missing school is especially difficult on our students.
And on their parents.
To all the moms and dads: I can’t imagine what you’re up against. Balancing parenting during this very scary crisis, while I know many of you have either lost a job; or are a first responder; or are trying to work from home with kids. All the time worried about their education, and figuring out home schooling.
This is really hard on parents too.
To that end, I can’t imagine it’s a surprise to anyone that we’ve been struggling with how best to continue to provide educational guidance during these extraordinary times.
We have your kids, and all of Oregon’s students, at the forefront of every decision we make about school. Their health, happiness and safety is a priority.
I know there is a lot of anxiety over how we will move forward. I know our students are extremely disappointed they are missing classes, prom and graduation ceremonies.
But the best thing we can do for the health of our children, and for the thousands of educators across the state, is to give everyone certainty by announcing the decision today to close in-person classes for the remainder of the school year. School, and learning, will continue as best as we can using remote means.
A core value of our schools is to place the student and their learning at the center of all decision-making.
We understand the incredible disruption this can have on each student’s education. We all see the isolation and challenges for families, especially those who rely on schools as a centering place for connection, community and comfort.
Every state in the country is struggling with these decisions. I am proud of the way our students have navigated this new world of unknowns, and the efforts of our teachers, educators, and parents to rise up and meet the demands of this difficult new reality.
This decision is important because:
It is about safety. It is first and foremost to protect our kids and our teachers. It is impossible to adhere to social distancing measures in our classrooms and our schools.
Oregon’s education workforce is typically older and potentially more vulnerable to COVID-19. We need to make sure we’re keeping our students, teachers, principals, and school staff safe as well.
There are operational costs to schools in preparing for a potential reopening. Deciding to close school now, for the rest of the school year allows us to invest time and resources in the delivery of learning, and supporting our students through distance education and remote means.
I know this certainty is not what any of us were hoping for, but it is the best decision for our system.
Now, for our high school seniors, who are just weeks away from finishing out their last year of high school, I want to also provide the plan on how we will move forward.
The Oregon Department of Education, in consultation with teachers and school districts across the state, has put together a plan that will honor the great work our students have completed through March, when we temporarily closed school, and still provide a pathway to graduation.
Concerns about equity — for our homeless students, our students of color, low-income students and vulnerable students — are at the forefront of my mind when making public policy decisions that impact Oregonians. This is part of the reason I support this plan put forth by our Education Department.
All our high school seniors who were on-track to graduate prior to the statewide school closure will receive a passing grade for their courses. This allows us to maintain Oregon’s current graduation requirements.
I refuse to punish students, many of whom have been in Oregon schools for over a decade, because they could not attend classes for a little over two months.
However, for those students who did not have a passing grade in mid-March, and who need time to improve their grades in order to pass one or more classes needed for their diploma, I am asking school districts to focus their efforts to finding creative ways to get these seniors the extra attention they need to get across the finish line.
It encourages our schools to develop alternative learning plans for seniors. We are already seeing our schools deploy creative tactics that are locally driven and reflect the best interests of our kids. I expect nothing less in helping ensure that seniors graduate on time.
In addition, I am extending the existing executive order for Oregon’s post-secondary education system to continue following distance learning through the end of this academic term.
Oregon’s public universities are also committed to ensuring that incoming freshman students who intend to enroll at our state institutions are considered fairly in light of the educational interruption they have endured in their final year of high school due to COVID-19.
No student admitted to public universities this fall will have their admission taken away due to changes in this new grading policy, or an inability to complete their coursework as long as they still graduate.
So again, I know that schools closing for the remainder of the school year is not the news you wanted to hear. However, I hope that the plan to graduate our seniors, and our commitment to continued learning removes some of the stress of uncertainty for students and parents across the state.
I want to take a moment to really honor the educators who are dealing with this unprecedented situation: our teachers, principals, superintendents, counselors, bus drivers, and food service staff.
I know how much you love your students, and how much you love teaching. This is a very difficult time to be a teacher and to try to reach all of your students, assist them, and help them grow.
I honor your creativity and public service during this historic time. Thank you for everything you do.