Everyone wants kids to attend school. Everyone wants to be safe and healthy. Back to school or staying safe is a false dilemma. We want both, and we can have both. Availability of vaccines is gradually increasing and hybrid school is already beginning for most students in our district. Nonetheless, there’s more to be done. In considering next steps, let’s take stock of where we are now, what we can learn from where we’ve been, and how to get where we’re going.
The Oregon Department of Education is already working on guidance to allow elementary schools to implement the Center for Disease Control’s recent guidance that three-foot spacing presents a manageable risk for elementary school. As of March 22, case rates in Clackamas County put us at the moderate-risk level on reopening metrics. At the same time, all our district’s K-12 schools are reopening under the hybrid system this month. Though there is more to be done, we are making progress.
Thankfully, we’re a long way from where we were a year ago, when all our students were at home, mostly doing asynchronous and ungraded learning. What did we learn? We learned that — as with many things in life — remote learning affects all students and all families differently. Families with young children, single parents, two working parents who cannot telecommute, students with challenges to learning, and others are not well served by remote learning. A few students and families do pretty well with remote learning.
We also learned that not every aspect of education is affected the same way. While some classes sometimes lend themselves to remote learning, it really doesn’t work well for hands-on activities such as sports, arts, sciences, and vocational and technical learning. We learned that if someone cannot attend a class or meeting in-person, technology may offer an alternative, but not in all cases. In my previous life as a diplomat and working for our military, it was common for us to have meetings in which some participants were in the same room while others were participating in the same meeting in real-time while being located on far away bases, ships, or diplomatic posts. Some human interaction works just fine that way. Other interaction — especially sports, arts, and science — works better in person.
So, now what? How do we get to the point when all students who wish to do so — or at least with families who wish their kids to do so — can attend school in person? Vaccinate. Vaccinate. Vaccinate. I would encourage everyone in our community, who is eligible and can get an appointment, to vaccinate as soon you can. We do need to bear in mind that the virus is mutating and there may be setbacks. We’ve dealt with setbacks before and we can successfully navigate them again.
And, don’t stop all the good behaviors we’ve learned so far: wear masks and practice social distancing as prescribed. Let’s be clear about the CDC’s latest guidance. It says:
- In elementary schools, CDC recommends all students remain at least 3 feet apart in classrooms where mask use is universal — regardless of whether community transmission is low, moderate, substantial, or high.
- In middle and high schools, CDC also recommends students should be at least 3 feet apart in classrooms where mask use is universal and in communities where transmission is low, moderate, or substantial.