PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said Friday she is issuing an executive order mandating that all K-12 public schools provide universal access to in-person learning by the month’s end for students up to fifth grade and by mid-April for older students.
The state’s coronavirus case numbers have fallen significantly and Oregon put teachers ahead of older residents in the line for the COVID-19 vaccine — a decision that angered many people age 65 and up. As teachers get vaccinated, Brown has been under tremendous pressure from parents and local elected officials in many counties to reopen schools.
Many teachers' unions nationally have balked at returning to in-person learning, putting them at odds with Democratic governors like Brown in some states. In neighbouring Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee has implored educators to return to the classroom, but most students there are in on-line classes and the Seattle teachers' union is defying a district plan to return special education students to schools.
Under the Oregon order, students in K-5 must have an in-person learning option by March 29. Students in grades six through 12 must have one by April 19.
Students who prefer to remain in online class will also have the option.
“The science is very, very clear: with proper safety measures in place, there is a low risk of COVID-19 transmission in school. Oregon parents can be confident about sending their children back to a classroom learning environment," Brown said in a statement, after visiting a Portland school.
Brown has previously said about 20% of Oregon public school students were back to in-person learning.
Rylee Ahnen, spokesman for the Oregon Education Association, said in a statement teachers support returning to the classroom if it can be done safely. He said educators understand teachers' frustration. “We urge all our local school districts to continue to work in good faith with local educators,” Ahnen said.
The union represents 44,000 K-12 teachers across Oregon.
Most students in Oregon have been learning online for the better part of a year. Some school districts have returned to part-time in-person learning, mostly at the elementary level.
Brown said all but six counties in the state currently meet or exceed the advisory metrics for a return to in-person, hybrid learning for all grade levels. Five of the counties that do not yet meet the guidelines for all grade levels do make the cut-off for a return to elementary school.
After those dates, all public schools in Oregon will operate either on a full-day of in-person school or a hybrid model, in which students spend parts of the day or some days each week in a classroom setting and other parts of the day or week online. The approach that districts choose will be dictated by COVID-19 case numbers in their county and local decision-making, officials said.
The Salem-Keizer School District, the states's second largest after Portland, announced Friday that it would welcome middle and high school students back to a hybrid model that combines in-person learning and distance learning starting April 13. Elementary students in the district have already been back in class on a hybrid model.
Gillian Flaccus, The Associated Press