Oregon Rep. Andrea Salinas, D-Lake Oswego, held a virtual back-to-school town hall meeting and invited panelists to speak on the topic Wednesday Aug. 19.
"I wanted folks to be able to hear that it's hard on all of us," Salinas said.
Panelists included Lake Oswego School District Superintendent Lora de la Cruz, the executive director of Family Forward Oregon, Andrea Paluso, and various LOSD students. Each panelist shared their perspective on this unusual back-to-school season.
Salinas said she had hoped to get a teacher on the panel as well, but it didn't work out.
"I wanted their perspectives, too," she said. "They, too, have their own life (outside) of teaching."
Salinas said a big problem with politics and policymaking is that all voices aren't included, and she tries to address this when she holds town halls.
"I hear from people who are angry and upset. … I feel like the biggest accomplishment to me is getting someone to look beyond their lens," Salinas said.
She invited de la Cruz to speak on the ongoing plans for reopening schools.
"I wanted folks to understand that it's not arbitrary — we're not making these arbitrary decisions," Salinas said.
De la Cruz gave a brief overview of the planning process for reopening school this fall.
"We are planning for the unpredictable," she said. "But what I know about our school board and myself is that we value transparency."
She added that guidance from the state has changed many times throughout the planning process.
"To be honest the guidance can be boggling sometimes," she said.
De la Cruz said about 1,300 students have signed up for LO Online, the district's online-only program for learning that lasts through the entire school year. That's about 20% of the district's population.
She said that although school will be virtual, the district needs about the same amount of funding as it would if it were in-person — something that Salinas said was confusing to some of her colleagues in the Legislature.
"We want stability for our students; we want them to be able to connect with teachers," de la Cruz said.
She mentioned education assistants and special-ed assistants, who are needed to provide additional support for students.
De la Cruz agreed that with the lack of an in-person school day, some roles have shifted, but all in all, she said running a school remotely requires the same funds.
Additionally, the district is trying to navigate the inequities of online learning by making sure principals put careful thought into a.m./p.m. cohort placements, providing flexibility to working families and creating virtual academic support centers at the high school level.
Two of the high school student panelists — Benjamin Connor and Jake Watson — interned in Salinas' office this summer. The spoke about their concerns about access to mental health supports during the school year, as well as the viability of physical distancing in a school environment once the hybrid model is allowed to start.
The other student panelist, Emily Zou, is the co-executive director of Oregon Student Voice, a student-run nonprofit that aims to empower students to shape their education.
"First, I just want to say that student voice should be an extremely important factor in the decision-making process," Zou said.
She expressed her concern over the a.m./p.m. cohort model and the quarter system that would leave students preparing for Advanced Placement tests at a disadvantage because it would mean students would learn material part of the school year instead of the entire school year.
Paluso of Family Forward Oregon — an organization advocating for economic and reproductive justice for moms and caregivers — said that even before the pandemic, child care was undervalued. As children start school virtually this year, many families will be without child care resources.
"And yet we know that it's not a school's problem to solve alone," she said. "We've never had in this country a comprehensive child care system."
She listed several child care resources during her talk, but mentioned that many people will not qualify for one reason or another.
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