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Jennifer Noonan is a Southeast Portland resident. She argues that schools should reopen in-person classes to help lift families out of poverty.

PMG FILE PHOTO - A Portland mother argues that reopened schools would help lift families out of poverty.As a working mother, I have grown frustrated that the school reopening debate has broken down largely along partisan lines. So, I was initially glad to see the governor's order that mandated a return to classrooms.

But once you scratch the surface, the order doesn't go far enough for countless families like mine.

I grew up in and out of homelessness with parents who struggled with substance abuse. I survived rape, sexual exploitation, neglect, hunger, poverty and eventually ended up in foster care.

Despite my trauma, today I am a proud mother of four children. As a foster child, I was constantly moving. One consistency in my life was school.

My family still struggles with poverty, but I am working toward a degree and work on the weekends to lift my family out of poverty. School closures made those efforts nearly impossible. I have been forced into another job: teacher. So you can see why I sighed in relief when I heard that my children might be headed back to school.

However, the governor's order still allows for schools to only offer hybrid learning -- an option my school district, David Douglas, was all too eager to take despite being within the CDC's guidelines for full in-person instruction. Hybrid learning will continue to delay my family's rise out of poverty.

I hear many Oregon politicians talk about equity. I understand that some may want to continue with distance learning, and they should have that option. But equity should also acknowledge that school closures and hybrid learning have caused millions of women like me to drop out of the workforce and have had disproportionate impacts on communities of color and families on the poverty line.

Families like mine need a full five days per week of in-person instruction.

Just like they were for me, learning and socialization that happens in school are essential for these communities to reach their full potential. A report from last year indicated that students of color will lose more future earnings over their working lives than their white peers.

More and more kids are regularly considering suicide. Child welfare reports are at an all-time low, (but) not because abuse and neglect suddenly decreased. An in-person education was a lifeline for me, and other kids deserve the same lifeline.

Before schools closed, I started my hour-long bus commute from Southeast Portland to my college in Gresham by dropping off two of my kids at their Head Start Program. Growing up I was told that education was the way out of poverty, something I have also told my kids.

But now, even with the governor's order, the promise of education has been indefinitely suspended, without any clear light at the end of the tunnel. We still don't know when my kids will get the education they deserve or when I will be able to get back to making a better life for our family.

Hybrid isn't enough. It doesn't meet the needs of working families or our kids.

Jennifer Noonan is a Southeast Portland resident.


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