Oregon Achieves... Together!
A Message from the Director of the Oregon Department of Education, Colt Gill
June has always been a significant culminating point of the school year with classes ending, graduation ceremonies and the start of summer vacation. I don’t need to tell you that June 2020 is altogether different. Rather than large, community celebrations of a completed K-12 education, graduations became virtual or small group affairs. This year students, families and teachers worked hard to connect and stay engaged in learning through a global pandemic, while our country, state and communities were also experiencing visceral reactions to racism and violence and deep-seated prejudice and discrimination.
Earlier this month, an ODE staff member shared with me that she recently talked to some Black students in Oregon. One told her that the police officer who put his knee to the neck of George Floyd, to them, represented their school experience: the way in which they are treated and seen at their schools. We cannot ignore this profound explanation of their lived experiences. Anti-Blackness (whether explicit or not) is real. It exists in our communities and our schools. Systemic racism has a direct, intense negative impact on the lives of Black and Brown students, their families and staff members of color across the state.
In fact, racism hurts everyone. All of us at ODE carry responsibility for our education system. As a White man, I acknowledge and accept my role in perpetuating the status quo and not being more powerful in working to bring about necessary change. I have to own it; we all have to own it. The current educational structures, culture and practices that fail to appropriately support each student and provide authentic inclusion within well-functioning schools where diversity is honored and truly equitable practices are in place cannot go on.
We must think about all these developments in our state, nation, and world as opportunity to rethink education in a way that embraces and affirms all cultures and strives to heal current and past suffering caused by dominant culture and white supremacy.
We need a system that embraces every child, recognizes each student’s beauty and strength as we support them in reaching their goals. As I serve students and educators as a leader of our education system in Oregon, I believe and proclaim that Black Lives Matter and that immediate action is needed to stop the hurt and harm. I commit myself and call on others to work as partners with the State Board of Education, the African American/Black Student Success Advisory Group, our communities, schools, and students to make necessary cultural and structural changes to transform the experiences of students throughout Oregon in each and every classroom and school setting.
There is much work to do to create and sustain truly inclusive, respectful, diverse and equitable schools around the many compelling issues of race, gender identity, social class, immigration status, and ability that adversely affect our students.
Yet, there are positive signs of progress in our country as well. I am heartened by today’s decision from the U.S. Supreme Court to block the current administration from ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. This decision is an important first step towards protecting many of Oregon’s students, families and educators. It is also a reminder we still have more work to do to protect and support DACA recipients including more than 11,000 in Oregon. As we move forward, ODE reaffirms our commitment to protecting the rights of our DREAMers. ODE will continue to assist school districts in expanding and improving Oregon’s efforts to ensure schools and classrooms are safe, inclusive, welcoming and respectful for all educators, students and their families, regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, immigration status or documentation status.
As we plan for the 2020-21 school year, it is urgent and essential that we each rethink education in a way that embraces and affirms all cultures and strives to heal current and past suffering caused by dominant culture and white supremacy beliefs and behaviors.
At ODE we’re devoted to building that kind of system. On June 10, we released
Ready Schools, Safe Learners, the guidance for the 2020-21 school year. It represents the efforts of the Oregon Department of Education, the Oregon Health Authority, Governor Kate Brown and her staff and countless educators, administrators and education partners across the state. It was developed to be responsive: it will be updated regularly to incorporate feedback and adjust to changing conditions regarding the virus.
For the 2020-21 school year, each public school will work under the direction of the school district to develop an Operational Blueprint for Reentry that is tailored to the local context and informed by local needs. Each public charter school will work under the direction of its sponsor to develop its own Operational Blueprint for Reentry that is tailored to the community it serves. And, each private school will develop its own Operational Blueprint for Reentry that is tailored to the community it serves.
Each Operational Blueprint for Reentry must address eight essential elements including Public Health Protocols; Equity; Instruction; and Family and Community Engagement. By August 15 or prior to the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, the local school board (or private school operator) must review the Operational Blueprint for Reentry and make it available to the community online. The blueprints will require that every school, under the direction of the district, determine whether they teach all students on site, teach all students through new comprehensive distance learning or utilize a hybrid model.
It is imperative that we work through all the challenges our students, educators, families and communities face and go back to school. Oregon’s children need access to an equitable, high quality education and all the nutrition, health, and social supports that come with it. Our state’s future depends on the education, health, and wellbeing of today’s children. We need to come together to overcome existing and exacerbated inequities brought on by COVID-19. We can do it carefully and cautiously and slowly, where needed. And, we can provide ready schools that are safe places for learners, staff, and their families.
The following statement comes from a 7th grade submission from Linus Pauling Middle School in Corvallis in response to ODE’s “Elevating Voices Project.” These words inspire the kind of leadership and decisions we need to make together at this time:
We must ask ourselves, what do we want to get out of this? We have the choice to choose whether to go through this uncertain time with an open heart, receiving others with compassion and grace, or we can isolate ourselves in fear. Our world can be changed for better or for worse because people are suffering. The economy is uncertain and appears shattered. People are losing loved ones to a virus that is affecting the entire world. This is hard for every single one of us. But this isn’t all bad. It’s an opportunity for change in our schools, our family lives, and our planet. We have a chance to try something different, and we should take advantage of that. We must remember that we are all in this together. Times are hard, but throughout history humans have powered through all kinds of challenges, all the while learning and discovering along the way. If we all play a part, and we all join hands, we can reach success. Because this coronavirus is pushing us to rely on the things that matter most; the things that a virus will never take away.
We have to ask ourselves, if this experience will help us grow, or if the fear will suffocate our joy and take away the empathy we have for others. Yes this is painful, but we can come out of this fire stronger. It is the mindset we possess and the heart for those that are struggling that will carry us out of this.