Follow data, and common sense, on reopening schools
Despite our continued struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic, Oregon has been cautiously reopening.
Restaurants, shops, bars, salons, gyms, daycares, preschools and indoor playgrounds are all open and following safety measures guided by scientific consensus
But one place has been conspicuously absent from reopening: public schools. Our children have not attended school in-person for months, and in our area, most will likely have to wait much longer.
For many kids, this is a game-changer.
The central role that public schools play in our society has been well-documented. Distance learning requires children to spend hours each day in front of their computers, and remote classrooms do not allow them to socialize easily with their peers.
Our schools' essential task of teaching our children how to be empowered individuals in a diverse society cannot be easily done online.
Worryingly, there is increasing evidence that the stress caused by remote learning has already had a negative impact on their physical and mental health, contributed to a loss of important skills, and limited their social development.
These impacts are not necessarily just short-term: the lack of in-person school may increase their risk for chronic health conditions and lower their future economic prospects.
Their families and caregivers are suffering as well, and these consequences are felt disproportionately by our students and families of color and by those experiencing poverty.
Recent expert guidance strongly recommends that we do everything we can to safely educate our students in-person. And schools have been open all over the country for months now with encouraging safety data that suggests that they have not been a major source of COVID-19 spread.
Even in states like Florida, where COVID-19 cases per capita and positivity rates are at much higher levels than here in Oregon, schools have not been implicated in major outbreaks as feared.
But Oregon's school reopening metrics, which go beyond our neighbors in California and Washington, give students a minimal chance to return to school in-person despite this encouraging data. Common-sense safety measures like wearing face coverings, frequent hand-washing and social distancing work, and despite initial fears that school openings would result in major spread of COVID-19 cases, our country's experience tells us otherwise.
Our children both attend an elementary school in Beaverton that has been operating remotely for months. But it's not sitting empty.
Much like several other area schools, Cooper Mountain Elementary School permits a private daycare to use the site to host learners from kindergarten through the sixth grade. While physically at school, students learn remotely rather than receive instruction from their teachers. Fortunately, excellent safety protocols are in place, and we've had no large outbreaks amongst those children and staff.
But how can anyone not be stunned to see our schools being used in this way?
We support public education and our teachers, but we are making a mistake by continuing with remote learning alone. If we don't open schools to in-person learning soon, we'll continue to fail the most vulnerable members of our society. We now have data to support that it is possible to do so safely.
We strongly encourage Gov. Kate Brown, the ODE, and the OHA to follow the data and adjust our metrics to allow for in-person learning.
Dr. Trevor Moerkerke is a family physician at the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center. Douglas Byrd is a professor of political science at Portland Community College.
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