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August 2021 Education Update

Oregon Achieves... Together!

A Message from the Director of the Oregon Department of Education, Colt Gill

ODE Director Colt Gill 

Every year, the return to school brings a mix of excitement and nervousness. This fall, both feelings could be heightened as Oregon’s students return to full-time, in-person learning.

We know it’s critical that our schools implement health and safety protocols to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. And over the past few months, state education and health officials have worked to draft a resiliency framework for public school districts that shifts to a more traditional, local decision-making model. Districts must fulfill the requirement of informing their community about their safety protocols, following statewide quarantine and isolation protocols, mandating use of face coverings, and providing a process to support students who experience disability, but this new direction lets local communities make the health and safety decisions that serve students best. After more than a year of implementing physical distancing, cohorts, isolation protocols and other measures, schools have the necessary practice to mitigate COVID-19 and create a welcoming and inclusive learning environment for students and staff.

We know that in-person instruction, delivered safely, provides our children and families with the greatest access to an equitable education. Schools not only educate our kids, but also act as a center of services to students and families, offering nutritious meals, access to social-emotional and mental health supports, as well as physical health services.

Providing strong COVID-19 protocols is one imperative; however, it is also essential to help students and staff build relationships and make meaning of the challenging and sometimes traumatic last 18 months to set the foundation for the school year ahead.

Many schools already make the first day of school a celebration, with some literally rolling out red carpets or bringing in the marching band. But this year, we’re urging schools and school districts to designate the entire first full week of school as “Care and Connection Week.” The week is an opportunity for school leaders, staff, students and families to foster a sense of care, connection and community, as the first step to creating a healthy, welcoming, and strong community for the school year.

Many school staff already use “getting to know you” exercises and activities like greeting students at the classroom door each day. Some use art, music, movement, nature and other opportunities for students to express themselves. These and other activities can encourage students and staff to make meaning of their experience and build relationships and community.

This year, these kinds of activities and trust building exercises will prove more important and meaningful than any time in recent history, as the pandemic also had the impact of isolating many students from their peers and trusted adults outside their home. We invite all staff and administrators to make care and connection activities an ongoing daily practice, beginning the first week of school, so that every student, staff member and visitor who walks into a school building feels welcome, validated, and cared for.

Challenges returning to in-person school may be heightened for students, families and staff in communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, or those who have personally been impacted by illness or loss. These include members of tribes here in Oregon and Indigenous, Black, Latinx, Asian, and Pacific Islander communities, LGBTQ students, and those experiencing a disability, navigating poverty, and many living in Oregon’s rural communities. We must make sure our most impacted students are recognized for their strength and resiliency and receive the support they need and deserve.

Family, friends, guardians and others are welcome to celebrate Care and Connection Week as well! Talking with children about their feelings heading into the new school year can help alleviate fears and inspire eagerness and confidence. Making the days leading up to the first day of school special can provide for a positive transition. Maybe it’s having a celebration dinner with the whole family the night before school starts, or taking a family walk around the block and asking the students what they are looking forward to most about school.

The best part about Care and Connection Week is that it doesn’t have to stop with the first week of school. Once students, families and staff start incorporating care and connection activities into school, it can become a daily practice that builds strong, trusting bonds between students, staff, and families.

Resiliency Framework Updated with New Face Covering Rules

The Ready Schools, Safe Learners Resiliency Framework for the 2021-22 School Year is updated to include the Oregon Health Authority’s new statewide rules: (OAR 333-019-1015) requiring face coverings in all indoor school settings, both public and private, for all individuals five years and older who are in grades kindergarten through 12th, including all students, staff, contractors, volunteers and visitors; and OAR 333-019-1025 requiring face coverings in all indoor public settings.

Adoption of these rules is in response to the staggering increase in the spread of COVID-19 in Oregon driven by the highly transmissible Delta variant of COVID-19. The Resiliency Framework continues to prioritize student and staff health and well-being through care, connection and the creation of safe, inclusive and supportive learning environments.

Please share this colorful graphic explainer to inform your students, staff and community how universal and correct use of face coverings helps to maintain continuity of learning. Quite simply, face coverings mean more days in school for more students.

Here are some links to other key documents:

We understand this update about OHA’s rule may bring questions. Many of them are answered in our Frequently Asked Questions document, so be sure to check that out. Our hope is to provide you with the assistance you need to implement this new requirement with fidelity. Please contact ODE at ODE.COVID19@ode.state.or.us with any other questions.

Help Spread the Word About the Child Tax Credit

The American Rescue Plan Act expands the child tax credit for tax year 2021. The maximum credit amount has increased to $3,000 per qualifying child between ages 6 and 17 and $3,600 per qualifying child under age 6.

Eligible parents or guardians could receive part of the credit in 2021 through advance payments of up to:

  • $250 per month for each qualifying child age 6 to 17 at the end of 2021.
  • $300 per month for each qualifying child under age 6 at the end of 2021.

The expansion of the credit also means it:

  • is fully refundable, meaning qualified individuals can claim the credit even if they don't have earned income or don't owe any income taxes.
  • now includes children who turn 17 in 2021.
  • allows those who are eligible to receive half of the 2021 estimated credit in advance.

See Advance Child Tax Credit Payments in 2021 on IRS.gov for details on eligibility, timing of monthly payments, helpful resources and more.

ODE In the News

Student Spotlight


Did You Catch Our Facebook Live Q&A sessions?

Earlier this week ODE partnered with the Oregon Health Authority to present three Facebook Live Q&A sessions dealing with the face coverings rule, one of them for Spanish speakers. If you missed them live, you can still watch them on the ODE Facebook page. Feel free to share the link with anyone in your community who have questions!

ODE Director Colt Gill also participated in OHA’s regular Town Hall Facebook Live event on the broader topic of what families can expect during the school year. Check that out on OHA’s Facebook page.

Early Learning Division Highlights

Update on Face Coverings Rule
Following the governor’s indoor mask requirement for face coverings, ELD has received additional clarity that child care programs will only need to implement this face covering requirement for school-age care beginning at kindergarten. This means that children in 0 to 5 preschool programs, particularly classrooms with 3- to 5-year-olds, will not have to wear a face covering. If a child is attending kindergarten (or other grade levels), they are required to wear a mask. Note: The federal law requiring face coverings on public transportation, including school buses, applies to children two and up.

New Report Shows How COVID-19 Heightened Challenges for Child Care Providers
The Oregon Early Learning Division commissioned a study to look at the impact COVID-19 had on the ability of Oregon’s child care and early care and education programs to remain open and serve families. As part of the study, a statewide survey of 3,035 early educators during March of 2021 found inequities, including low wages and layoffs, particularly for early educators of color.

Read more about the study on the Early Learning Division’s website.

Governor Kate Brown Appoints Alyssa Chatterjee as Director of the Early Learning Division
On August 13, Governor Brown announced that she has appointed Alyssa Chatterjee as the Director of the Early Learning Division (ELD). Chatterjee had been serving as the acting director of ELD since May when Director Miriam Calderon left for a position in the Biden Administration.

A full news release about the appointment is available on Governor Brown’s website.

Portland Thorns Help Kickoff Summer Meals Program

The Oregon Department of Education kicked off this year’s Summer Food Service Program with the help of the Portland Thorns through a promotional video featuring ODE Director Colt Gill and Portland Thorns Forward Morgan Weaver.

When schools let out for the summer, thousands of Oregon children lose access to breakfast, lunch and afterschool meals they receive during the regular school year. Since schools first closed their doors in March 2020 due to COVID-19, the Summer Food Service Program helped to fill the gap by providing free, nutritious meals to children and teens. The Summer Food Service Program continues to provide nutritious meals over the summer months at participating summer sites including many schools, parks and non-profit organizations.

Though recent events have created an increase in participation in the Summer Food Service Program, it is still underutilized with many families unaware of the free meals in their communities. There are more than 550 summer meal sites in Oregon alone. Families can look up meal locations in their area by calling 2-1-1, or texting “Food” or “Comida” to 877-877, or visiting Summer Food Oregon.

ODE's 2021 Legislative Summary

The 2021 Legislative Session was one that will not soon be forgotten as Oregon grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic and racial unrest. Committee hearings were held entirely online while the Oregon State Capitol Building remained closed to the public. Only lawmakers and essential personnel were in the building for floor votes.

While there were many challenges in adjusting to a virtual legislative session, including internet access issues, there were also significant benefits. Principal among them was a noted increase in community engagement: as of May 2021, over 14,400 people had registered online to provide testimony and 30,000 emails had been submitted. For Oregonians statewide, there was increased access to the legislative process, particularly with the removal of the barrier of traveling to Salem to testify.

ODE’s Government Relations Team spent numerous hours advocating for ODE’s proposed legislation and providing information to committees and members. We tracked nearly 300 bills that impacted K-12 education, and almost 100 of those bills became law.

This Legislative Summary highlights the bills moving us further in the direction of equity and anti-racist policies, and provides an overview of all newly passed legislation affecting K-12. ODE is proud to have produced equity-minded legislation and to have worked with many partners to make these policies a reality.

If you have any questions after reviewing the Legislative Summary, please reach out to ODE Government Relations & External Affairs Director Jessica Ventura.