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Kate Brown Acknowledges Online Classes Create Equity Issue
Garnering support and praise from both sides of the aisle

Oregon Governor Kate Brown held a joint press conference Friday, January 8th, with Oregon Health Authority Director Pat Allen and Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill, citing the disproportionately negative impacts of online school for Black, Indigenous People Of Color (BIPOC), and rural families across the state. Brown, Allen, and Gill stressed the importance of equity, stating that many children of color and children living in rural communities are failing and must return to in person instruction as quickly as possible.

The Governor stated that it's just not fair to expect impoverished families, and single parents to continue working full time, while also struggling to fill the roles as full time educators and parents. "Especially for our littles," stated Brown, "who are trying to learn math and reading from home." According to recent headlines, Oregon students are failing at alarming rates with the current at home virtual-only education model, and changes need to be made quickly.

Friday's announcement has organizations across the state calling this commitment to equity, a triumph for students and families alike.

"The timing of this announcement couldn't be more appropriate, and I commend Governor Brown for taking this action,” stated Alsea School Superintendent Marc Thielman during a phone interview Friday evening. “I’m relieved and want to express gratitude to the Governor as I know countless families across the state are anxious to have their concerns and challenges addressed. With the mounting evidence we've amassed since the onset of this pandemic, the importance of in-person instruction, along with social and emotional connections gained during school hours, are invaluable. It's time to get kids reconnected to in-person instruction swiftly, before additional collateral damage is done.” Thielman went on to add, “the evidence is overwhelming: schools that use reasonable covid mitigation protocols are safe for both kids and staff and are not sources of spread.” A Sentiment echoed and shared by the Director of Oregon's Department of Education Colt Gill.

Thielman’s district, the Alsea School District, offers three public educational models for families: a physical campus facility for traditional in-person learning, a strictly digital program with an online school he’s had in place prior to the original lockdown last year (out of demand from families who wish for online-only), and now a new at home learning program called Learn at Home Oregon. After the feedback Thielman received from parents last spring, he approached his board to bring forth a balanced on-line and off-line learning approach through a home-based distance education program that launched over the summer. This third choice brought a new option for families both in his district, as well as across the state as many expressed concerns regarding screen time for children. Alsea's physical classrooms however, have been safely open for in-person learning since August for those in his district that do want to attend. The open campus in Alsea has proven that with proper protocols in place, schools can safely and effectively operate, while continuing to provide important services to students and their families, amidst even the most difficult of challenges.

“I have confidence in the Governor’s decision to return the process of determining appropriate risk thresholds back to the local school districts and their communities,” said Thielman. “Doing so is the only way to provide balance to diverse geographical regions and challenges that face different communities across our state. The Governor’s briefing acknowledges what I have been sharing with other educators across the state: we need to address that there are distinct differences in those we are here to serve and we need to find equitable ways to support and accommodate all students.”

According to Suzanne Gallagher, the Director of Parents' Rights in Education, "There has been a growing concern regarding equitable access to in-person education. We believe this is an important upturn of events, and applaud Governor Brown's decision. We have received an outpouring of daily correspondence from educators, students and parents asking for help. At disproportionately higher rates, we've heard from our community members of color; sharing stories of financial hardship, sharing that they've lost a child to suicide, depression, anxiety, hopelessness, high-stress and a general acknowledgement that online-only education is absolutely failing their families,” stated Gallagher. “We recognize that Governor Brown, the OHA, and the ODE have been faced with exceptional challenges, and criticisms during this time, but our organization applauds every step closer towards a more equitable and inclusive future."

As for Superintendent Thielman, optimism abounds, stating he has high hopes to see similar measures soon implemented around other youth programs, helping students regain access to upcoming on-campus sports and activities.

Many have expressed grave concerns regarding the mental health aspects of isolation and inactivity for both children and adults. According to the Center for Disease Control, "Loneliness was associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide." CDC Director Robert Redfield said in a recent Buck Institute webinar that "suicides and drug overdoses have now surpassed the death rate for COVID-19 among high school students". Reconnection through sports and community has been championed by experts as an important step to combating the current climate of restrictions, loss and suicide.

Theiman ended the interview with this thought, “The Governor has brought back a sense of balance to the direction for schools in Oregon, and as a father and Superintendent, I am encouraged to hear this. I'm also ready to continue to serve families with the services and support they need most right now, in order to get their children back on track and ready for the futures they desperately deserve.”

--Breeauna Sagdal

Post Date: 2021-01-10 13:07:52Last Update: 2021-01-10 13:28:20

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