Media Room

REMARKS AS PREPARED


Governor Kate Brown​
Press Conference - July 28, 2020
July 28, 2020


Good morning. And thank you for joining us. 

I am here today to talk about school plans for the fall. I’m joined by Dr. Dean Sidelinger, our state epidemiologist; Colt Gill, Director of the Oregon Department of Education; and Miriam Calderon, Early Learning System Director for the State of Oregon.

I have to tell you, closing schools in the spring was one of the most difficult decisions I have made in the pandemic. It was in the early days of the pandemic, which feels like a lifetime ago. 

As COVID-19 continues to impact both urban and rural small town Oregon, it has been clear that school this year will not look like any other year. 

Over the past few months I’ve often said that my decisions are based on the advice of medical experts and using science and data as my guide. And frankly, sometimes the data can point in several directions at once. 

Schools are a good example. As the American Academy of Pediatrics has stated, there is clear evidence that children receiving instruction and support in-school is far better for them academically.  

It fosters our students’ social and emotional well-being, their overall health, and often their physical safety. 

I know parents agree.

Parents also know that this is a highly contagious virus. And when there are lots of COVID-19 cases spreading in the community, then the likelihood that the virus will spread at schools also increases. 

That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics is also clear that only with low rates of disease and with adequate safeguards in place should schools return to in-person instruction.

Both of these things are true:

Good schools improve health.  

And we need to be cautious so schools don’t become places where the virus spreads.

In early June, the Oregon Department of Education and Oregon Health Authority provided schools and communities with comprehensive guidance to help planning for the fall.  

This guidance has provided every local school with a blueprint to implement clear health and safety protocols. It also provides the flexibility for schools to choose in-person instruction, comprehensive distance learning, or a hybrid approach.  

The plan each public school district adopts for the coming school year is -- and remains -- a local decision.  

And yet, in the time since then, the virus has continued to spread, and we must follow clear public health metrics to know when -- and where -- it is safe for school to reconvene inside school buildings. 

That is what we are announcing today: Dr. Sidelinger​​ will detail the circumstances under which school districts will be allowed to choose in person or hybrid learning for their local communities. 

He will also outline the markers for spread of the disease that will require schools to change gears and shift to comprehensive distance learning.

These requirements will give our public schools, private schools, and communities the opportunity to make sound decisions based on the latest science and health data.  

These requirements also provide reasonable allowances for our smallest, rural schools, as well as allowances for in-person instruction for specific populations of students, such as younger grades. 

Studies show that younger students, particularly those in Kindergarten through third grade -- kids under ten years old -- have lower rates of illness and transmission than older children or adults.

Providing nurturing, in-person relationships and learning to our youngest children is critical to developing the reading and language skills and social development necessary for their long-term success.  

Overall, these requirements align the recommendations from both public health experts and educators.

A few notes about how we landed on these metrics. 

First, as always, health and safety serve as our North Star. 

We are taking a cautious and careful approach that protects public health, just as we have over the past five months in tackling this disease.

Second, equity has to be at the forefront of our decision making. 

We know that our youngest children, our students of color, low-income students, and students experiencing disability have faced the greatest challenges accessing a high-quality education, and in their learning and development.  

Many of our families have already faced disproportionate impacts since schools closed to in-person instruction and moved to distance learning. 

Let me be clear, I am absolutely unwilling to lose an entire school year for kids. A year that could be foundational to the lifelong opportunities for thousands of Oregon students.  

I will push. I will cajole. I will demand nothing but excellence from our districts and our educators. 

But it is also incumbent on all of us, every community, to take every measure to slow the spread of this disease so that we can get our kids back in schools as soon as possible. 

We cannot let our kids down. These are truly all of our children.

I have confidence in our teachers, in our school staff and administrators, and in our district leaders. 

To help our school children achieve their dreams, and to ensure that kids can access comprehensive distance learning, I am releasing an additional $28 million to be distributed to all public schools under my Emergency Education Relief Fund. This money may be used for mobile hot-spots, computers and technology, online curriculum and teacher training. 

We can do this. We can rise to the challenge. 

Thank you.