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Clack to School advocates for Clackamas County students to be back in the classroom

Jennifer Dale was sharing the challenges of distance learning online with other parents in the Lake Oswego School District and began to realize other families felt similarly.

Dale has three children in the Lake Oswego School District, one who has a disability.

"She has a disability that really precludes her from participating in an online platform," Dale said.

Dale said she and a group of parents met via Zoom to see what they could do. Then, nearly two weeks ago, they created a Facebook group, and a parent organization by extension, open to parents in Clackamas County who want to see their students back in school safely.

"More people than we would have ever expected were having a hard time, and I think we were all operating in isolation and so we had no idea that so many people were having so many challenges," Dale said.

The parent group, called Clack to School, aims to advocate for children in Clackamas County to return safely to classrooms and now has almost 3,000 members.

"To have a prolonged distance education, some students are just going to get permanently left behind. Those are our most vulnerable students," Dale said.

Clack to School hosted a rally Oct. 1 at Clackamas Town Center to advocate for the safe, in-person return to the classroom.

Dale said the rally was an effort to unify people and solidify their message.

"I really hope that a lot of kids can feel like they are being heard and their needs are being met," Dale said.

As it stands, school districts in Oregon cannot begin to bring students back to in-person instruction until the county the district resides in meets the health metrics of fewer than 30 positive COVID-19 cases for every 100,000 people, for three consecutive weeks. Clackamas County met those metrics for almost three weeks until the latest week's data saw 35.4 positive cases.

"Our main ask is that we begin a collaborative conversation," Dale said, adding that Clack to School exists partly because parents saw that conversation wasn't happening.

The conversation, she said, is one where the state takes steps to figure out how to start getting vulnerable learners back in classrooms.

She said Clack to School understands the solutions will be hard to find.

"It's going to be complicated going back to school. We are all for safety, masking, good hygiene — we know that that is the main component to getting back to school," she said.

The state currently allows for an exception to the health metrics for "limited in-person instruction," which is supplemental to distance learning and only occurs a few times a week based on the student's needs.

Lake Oswego School District, for example, will begin limited in-person instruction with special-education evaluations in the coming weeks.

"It's likely that my 8 year old will be one of the first handfuls of kids in Lake Oswego to get back into a school building," she said.

But according to Dale, her daughter's limited in-person instruction would only be for a couple hours twice a week.

"That's extremely limited," she said.

LOSD said it appreciates all of the stakeholders expressing their perspectives on online and in-person instruction.

"LOSD is striving to meet the needs of our students, families, teachers and staff as effectively and safely as possible," Director of Communications Mary Kay Larson said.

Dale said her hope is that limited in-person instruction could be offered more quickly and to more children.

"The governor and ODE need to start talking about this," she said. "Can we safely go back to school in ways that we have safely started to fly and safely started to eat at restaurants?"

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