“Eight weeks ago, I directed the Oregon Department of Education and the Oregon Health Authority to put more schools on track to return students to in-person instruction, with a focus on our youngest learners. Since then, thanks to the incredible work of our superintendents, school board members, educators, parents, and community members, Oregon has more than doubled the number of students learning in-person, to 116,749.
“Starting next month, even more school districts across Oregon will begin returning elementary students to the classroom for hybrid instruction––including our second largest school district, Salem-Keizer, with over 17,000 elementary students. By the end of April, most elementary students in Oregon will be learning in classrooms again.
“I am thrilled to see so many of Oregon’s school districts and teachers working hard to help return our children to the most effective learning environment: in-person, personalized education. Now, middle and high school students must get the same chance, so that all students have the opportunity to benefit from in-person instruction, regardless of the community in which they live. It has been almost a year since most Oregon students have set foot in a classroom, and they are suffering. The social, emotional, mental, physical, and academic impacts of distance learning on our students have been well-documented. And, much has changed since last March.
“Oregon is committing robust state and federal resources for our schools––including our supplies of Abbott BinaxNOW rapid tests for on-site testing––to get students back into classrooms. We are utilizing $500 million in federal relief to implement safety standards and buy personal protective equipment for staff and students. All educators who want a vaccine will soon be fully vaccinated.
“The science is clear: with proper health and safety protocols in place, there is very little risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools. As districts implement the more than 160 health and safety protocols outlined in Oregon’s Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance, we can reopen our school buildings in a way that protects students, staff, and our communities.
“When I made my announcement in December, many thought in-person elementary was far beyond reach. At the height of our winter surge, COVID-19 case counts were high and hospital capacity was threatened. Since then, thanks to the smart choices of Oregonians, our case rates, hospitalizations, and deaths from COVID-19 have steadily declined, and even our largest school districts, including in the tri-county area, today meet or exceed Oregon’s advisory school metrics for hybrid in-person instruction.
“Our students only grow up once. We cannot let the school year end with the class of 2021 never having set foot in Oregon high schools. I know that some have had their doubts. But we can do this, by continuing to work together. It is within our power to provide every Oregon student the opportunity for in-person instruction this school year.”