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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:
Over the last seven weeks our families and educators have faced extraordinary challenges to build on the strengths and meet the needs of our state’s children during a global pandemic. Oregon’s education professionals (including bus drivers, nutrition service staff, school office staff, translators, teachers, school nurses, counselors, principals, district administrators, and so many more) have pulled off heroic efforts to provide care, connection, and continuity of learning for our students. We responded in a crisis, we have kept Oregon’s healthcare system from being overwhelmed, and we have saved lives through slowing the spread of COVID-19. It has been stressful, challenging, and rewarding.
Now we look forward to the coming school year. Governor Brown has begun the process of reopening and building a safe and strong Oregon. This fall Oregon will begin a process to provide in-person instruction in our schools again. However, we will still be living under the virus. Community-wide immunity is many months off. Governor Brown said, “I again ask Oregonians to come together and be smart. Reopening any part of our state comes with risk. This virus is still very dangerous, and it still poses a great threat. Please follow the safety measures we are putting in place.”
The fact is, physical distancing and hygiene are the best tools we have to prevent the spread and every prevention tool we remove increases the opportunity for transmission of the disease. However, we have time to ready our schools to provide in-person instruction in ways that employ the prevention tools we know work. We can hold school in-person and protect our children, our staff, and the families they return home to each day.
There is no doubt this spring was hard on students, families, and educators. Everyone was impacted. Parts of our state and specific communities - communities of color as well as people navigating poverty - were disproportionately impacted. And yet, we believe returning to school, the planning it will require, and the shifts in adult and student behavior it will require will be even more difficult.
It is imperative that we work through the challenges 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.
Today, we put forward the first iteration of guidance for school leaders for the year ahead. Our teams at the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) and the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) have collaborated, at the direction of Governor Brown, to craft guidance that places the design and decision-making into the capable hands of educators, school nurses, counselors, principals, business managers, superintendents and schools boards while providing clear statewide requirements and recommendations for health, safety, equity, and quality instruction across the state. This collaboration ensures school doors are open and ready to welcome students in the fall. The guidance describes what we know now, with an understanding that we will all need to navigate the state’s evolving efforts to mitigate COVID-19.
Our focus is on the safe reentry of staff and students to our schools. The 2020-21 school year requires a level of planning, iteration, communication, and collaboration like none that we've known or led during our years of service in Oregon. This guidance represents thousands of hours of work from teams at ODE and OHA and the sensemaking input of thousands of Oregonians, including school leaders, teachers, health professionals, community partners, families, and students. It is rooted in the research we’ve digested across the world and within the U.S. OHA epidemiologists have helped to create and have vetted this guidance. We have exchanged thinking with several other state education agencies and shared notes with national experts to inform and test our thinking.
This model will provide statewide guidance for each school to independently plan for the 2020- 21 school year. These individual plans will necessarily look different from community to community, as each school in Oregon serves diverse communities with distinct strengths and needs, each has unique physical structures, each includes different staff make-ups and local bargaining agreements, each has experienced varying degrees of impact from COVID-19 outbreaks, and each has access to various levels of readiness to respond to an outbreak.
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.
This guidance requires a communicable disease management plan and close coordination between the schools, school districts, and the local public health authorities. The guidance places great responsibility at the hands of local school and health officials with state oversight to protect the health of all Oregonians. The efforts of counties to prepare their health systems through the Governor’s phased reopening process creates the readiness for schools to operate this fall.
The planning will be complex and challenging to ensure our schools open safely. Returning Oregon students to on-site learning is an enormous responsibility, and that responsibility is shared by schools, districts, and local and state health and education agencies.
Thank you for your tireless efforts to support the health, education, and vibrancy of each and every Oregon community and the sovereign nations we serve.
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