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2020-21 Message From the Directors

Ready Schools, Safe Learners: Guidance for the 2020-21 School Year 


ODE Director Colt Gill in partnership with OHA Director Pat Allen has a message for students, families, educators and the community about the 2020-21 school year. Please read below and feel free to share with family and friends. The message is also available in these other languages:

A Message from the Directors

Oregon Department of Education  
Oregon Health Authority  

Ready Schools, Safe Learners

A new message for a new moment in time

Six weeks have passed since we first released Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance for school leaders across Oregon. When we wrote our first letter describing the initial release of the guidance, we named that we couldn’t yet have all the answers for school in the fall, but we would commit to tracking Oregon’s COVID-19 impacts, learning from a variety of inputs, and iterating the guidance through the summer. We’re confident that this update shows our continued evolution to support public health and safety, mitigate risks from the spread of COVID-19, and create learning opportunities for students that are both responsive and relevant to the moment.

Updates in this guidance include expanded face covering requirements for students in Kindergarten and above, as well as all staff (face covering guidance may continue to change as we align across sectors and respond to COVID-19 spread in Oregon). Importantly, we also more clearly explain cohorting as a risk mitigation strategy with a firm limit on cohort size. We have clarified the roles of local public health authorities, school districts, and state leaders in determining when school facilities need to close due to an outbreak of COVID-19. And we have improved the definitions and designs of the instructional models by significantly clarifying and distinguishing between expectations of engagement, reporting of attendance, and meeting instructional time requirements. The application of an equity lens and the digestion of real-time equity impacts continue to inform every aspect of our efforts.

The Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance places tremendous responsibility at the hands of local school and health officials with state oversight to protect the health of all Oregonians. Each version of guidance has been written specifically for those who are actively planning and will implement how learning will be supported in the coming school year—school leaders, superintendents, principals, business managers, with specific attention to teacher leaders and support staff. As a highly detailed, technical document, it may be complex as the general public, families, and students try to make sense of the information it contains to anticipate how their particular schools will decide to proceed.

School and learning don’t happen out of the context of community. Finding shared understanding and shared direction can best happen at the local and immediate level of communities across the state. This guidance informs and creates the parameters for those conversations that should happen between local public health officials, school leaders, board members, educators, staff, students, families, and community-based culturally-specific organizations, as well as other sectors from faith to philanthropy. Everyone’s voice matters and must be balanced with statewide considerations to protect the public’s health. We have provided a set of decision-making tools that can assist in deepening local engagement in order to arrive at the most viable decisions for each place.

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 this 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 essential elements including Public Health Protocols; Equity; Instruction; and Family and Community Engagement. By August 17 or prior to the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, the Operational Blueprint for Reentry must be submitted to the local school board (or private school operator), the local public health authority, and ODE; the blueprint must also be made available to the community online.

Every school, under the direction of the district, determines whether they teach all students on-site, teach all students through comprehensive distance learning or utilize a hybrid model. A communicable disease management plan is also required and should be developed through close coordination between the schools, school districts, and the local public health authorities.

Though not included in this version of Ready Schools, Safe Learners Guidance; in the coming weeks we will release a set of guideposts, protocols, and public health indicators that will help determine the best instructional model for a given zip code or county. Data about readiness of local healthcare systems and the state of local COVID-19 rates will help inform school decisions about when to move to On-Site or Hybrid models of instruction.

We know COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on Black, Indigenous, and students of color, as well as people navigating poverty and the elderly. There’s no easy solution to resolve existing inequities, and ODE and OHA continue to work closely together to develop solutions with an understanding of the research evidence and implementation challenges needed to support the school year ahead for everyone in schools. We continue to learn on a daily basis about COVID-19 and how school systems are responding across the US and in nations across the world. Our teams continue to scour that information for ways to improve what we’ve put forward while keeping in mind the values and guiding principles we’ve used to guide decision making.

As ODE and OHA continue to work hand-in-hand, we express deep gratitude to the school leaders and everyone collaborating with them to support learning in the year ahead. As they work tirelessly over the summer, they have hundreds of consequential decisions to make with lives and learning in the balance. This moment calls for the best of our collaborative and inclusive leadership and governance. Safety and wellness, connectivity and relationship, equity, and innovation continue to be a focus guiding our collective efforts to resolve challenges and find solutions for physical and mental health, learning, digital infrastructure, nutrition, and transportation.

With gratitude for all of this hard work, as well as each difficult decision and collaborative solution ahead of us.

#ReadySchools #SafeLearners


Colt Gill
Director of the Oregon Department of Education
Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction

Patrick Allen
Director of the Oregon Health Authority