By Teresa Carson
SALEM -- Gov. Kate Brown abruptly announced new rules for school re-openings on Wednesday afternoon, making former directives optional and allowing districts to open if they follow safety precautions.
In a letter to health and education agencies, she said "effective Jan. 1, 2021, Oregon's COVID-19 Health Metrics for Returning to In-Person Instruction will become advisory rather than mandatory. Moving forward, the decision to resume in-person instruction must be made locally, district by district, school by school."
In an effort to tamp down the COVID-19 pandemic, most Oregon schools have been closed since mid-March and students have been learning remotely in their homes. Many parents and students had become increasingly frustrated with the situation and the calls for reopening schools had become more strident as the months wore on.
The situation was complicated by resistance from some teachers unions. Some teachers are at high risk for COVID-19 or have high-risk people in their households. Schools had been closed and the parameters for re-opening were complicated and changed several times. They also were more stringent in Oregon that most other states.
The Wednesday announcement was made as school districts were out on winter break and most administrators were not available for comment.
The announcement said the goal of the new policy is "putting more school districts on track to return students to in-person instruction especially elementary students, by Feb. 15."
The Oregon Education Association immediately issued a statement slamming Brown's announcement.
"Today's decision by Gov. Brown will only result in an increasingly disparate patchwork of return plans throughout the state's public education system — creating uncertainty in a moment when clarity has never been more crucial," the association wrote.