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Lacey Beaty & Tom Colett: 'Returning to school does not mean COVID-19 is over.'

FILE - Lacey BeatyLater this week, Beaverton schools plan to welcome pre-kindergarten through second-grade students back into our buildings. Older students will follow, with a plan for all grade levels to receive a mix of in-person instruction and distance learning by April 22.

We are elated to have students back in our halls after more than a year away from in-person instruction. While we are proud of the tremendous effort that parents, teachers, staff and students have put into distance learning, nothing can replace the connections built in a physical classroom. With in-person instruction comes the opportunity to support students who are currently struggling with distance learning — a disproportionate number of whom come from historically underserved populations. Sports, clubs and other school-based activities offer opportunities for socializing — giving hope to students who have been isolated and experiencing increased mental health issues.

FILE - Tom ColettReturning our students to school has been a community-wide effort. We want to thank everyone who has been wearing a mask, social distancing, washing their hands, postponing gatherings, using curbside delivery, delaying travel, and getting vaccinated. COVID-19 infection rates do not decrease on their own; they are the direct result of all our efforts. Each school that reopens can be traced back to the thousands of small decisions made by community members.

As we look to the future, we have much to celebrate: greater vaccine access, decreasing COVID-19 cases and infection rates and fewer deaths and hospitalizations. Opening our schools is a big step in rebooting our economy and returning parents to the workforce.

However, we want to sound a note of caution. Responsible behaviors have created a pathway to in-person learning, and these same behaviors must be continued to keep students in school. Sadly, we have witnessed school reopenings elsewhere that are quickly followed by COVID-19 cases when social activities like sleepovers, parties, birthday celebrations and other get-togethers also resume. Returning to school does not mean COVID-19 is over; only that we have found ways to effectively mitigate transmission risk in school when case counts are lower.

Returning our students to school is not enough. COVID-19 not only poses a danger to students' and educators' health, but it also disrupts students' learning, often triggering quarantines which yo-yo students in and out of school.

The next few months are a critical time. Against a backdrop of increasing vaccination rates, multiple COVID-19 variants are circulating. In the Northeast, COVID-19 cases are rising, and many countries are experiencing a harrowing third wave of infections. The current moment has been aptly described as a race between the variants and the vaccine.

While we personally feel and empathize with the heartache of putting off another celebration or postponing visits with friends and family members, we strongly encourage the community to maintain the practices that have contributed to the decline in Washington County COVID-19 cases.

Returning our students to campuses and keeping them there, re-opening our economy, and ultimately defeating the virus depends on the small — but impactful — choices we each make every day.

Lacey Beaty is mayor of Beaverton. Tom Colett is vice chair of the Beaverton School Board.


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