Banks School District. Photo: Chas Hundley

Oregon Governor Kate Brown announced she will be mandating a return to in-person or hybrid instruction for most Oregon public school students by the week of March 29 for K-5 students and April 19 for students in grades 6-12.

According to a press release issued Friday, schools must operate under a hybrid learning model or a fully on-site instructional model when the county the district is located in meets, or exceeds, COVID-19 metrics laid out by the Oregon Department of Education and the Oregon Health Authority. 

With a planned executive order defining the details of the mandate soon to come, Brown stated “whether or not public schools should return kids to the classroom this spring is no longer up for discussion,” a reversal from her stance outlined in a Dec. 23 letter dated when Brown said that “moving forward, the decision to resume in-person instruction must be made locally, district by district, school by school.” 

In the Banks School District, the announcement should have little impact on the district’s reopening plans, as the current iteration of the reopening plan had all students back in school by March 29 already.

"Thanks to the smart choices Oregonians have made, our COVID-19 numbers have declined. All but six counties now meet or exceed Oregon’s advisory metrics for a return to in-person, hybrid learning for all K-12 grade levels,” said Governor Brown. "And, five of those counties meet the advisory metrics for a return to elementary school. The science is very, very clear: with proper safety measures in place, there is a low risk of COVID-19 transmission in school. Oregon parents can be confident about sending their children back to a classroom learning environment.”

Brown originally shuttered schools on March 16, 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic began to take hold of the U.S. Some schools began reopening this year, and as of March 2, the number of Oregon students learning in-person was at 160,105, according to Oregon Department of Education data

While schools will be mandated to allow in-person instruction, Brown said in a letter to the OHA and ODE that individuals that wished to remain in Comprehensive Distance Learning due to health and safety concerns would be permitted to, but that schools could only remain in Comprehensive Distance Learning under still-undefined specific parameters, such as when a district’s county is at a higher risk of COVID-19 transmission or students are or live with those at higher risk of complications from COVID-19. 

More guidance on exactly what the order will do is expected to be drafted and released by the Oregon Department of Education and the Oregon Health Authority by March 19. 

Brown cited a number of factors in her decision to mandate school reopening, including the lower risk of COVID-19 transmission across most of the state, rapid COVID-19 testing in schools thanks to federally-supplied Abbott BinaxNOW tests, teacher vaccinations, and federal funding in the last coronavirus aid package that sent $500 billion to schools across the U.S. to buy PPE, better ventilation equipment in schools, and other health and safety tools and resources. 

Brown also noted her support for unions representing staff and teachers in schools, lauding efforts to ensure safe working conditions in schools. 

“Closing schools in Oregon is a decision I will never forget,” Brown said. “Parents, educators, school staff, but especially students have come so far while navigating the challenges of this pandemic. Welcoming students back to every school across Oregon will be a milestone worth celebrating."