Philomath School District building
Philomath School District (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Interesting news came out of the governor’s office on Wednesday that could lead to a more definitive return to classrooms for Philomath students. Gov. Kate Brown announced that Oregon schools could open back up to students after the first of the year with COVID-19 metrics categorized as advisory information rather than mandatory.

The goal is for Oregon schools to be back to in-person instruction by Feb. 15.

From the governor’s office press release:

“Moving forward, decisions to resume in-person instruction must be made locally, district-by-district, school-by-school. In addition to schools continuing to adhere to required health and safety protocols and working in close consultation with their local public health authority in understanding and considering the metrics, teachers, school staff, parents and students should be engaged in this decision-making process to allow schools to make the best choice for their community and their students.”

Now this doesn’t mean Philomath students will immediately head back to classrooms after the winter break, but it does mean that the administrative team can make plans on a more conclusive basis.

“As we move into a new year, we must all rise to the challenges that COVID-19 presents and prioritizing our children is most urgent,” Brown said through a press release.

This entire school year, the local district has tried to navigate its way through the latest COVID-19 information and come up with a plan. It’s gone through many revisions.

“From the beginning of this pandemic, Oregon has been guided by data and science and taken a cautious approach,” Brown wrote in a letter to state agencies. “We’ve looked to our health experts and the experience of other states to guide our actions. It has become clear that when community spread is reduced and schools follow required health and safety protocols, there is low-risk of transmission and illness when students resume in-person instruction.”

PSD’s most recent timeline showed K-3 students heading back to classrooms on Jan. 12, grades 4-5 and middle school on Jan. 26 and high school on Feb. 2.

Earlier in the week, Brown included teachers and education-related employees to be prioritized for the coronavirus vaccine.

“One thing I know for sure is that our educators, school staff, child-care providers and early learning educators must be at the top of the list in Oregon’s next round of vaccines,” Brown said Tuesday. “Our kids need to know they’re No. 1. And that we’re doing everything we can to get them back into the classrooms.”

The state plans to update school safety requirements by Jan. 19 and as a result, the governor’s office believes districts may want to wait until then to make a decision. The Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Department of Education will factor into this with guidelines to offer.

Distance learning has been tough on the kids — as well as the parents. And don’t forget the teachers themselves who have entered completely new territory this year on how to motivate and educate their students.

“This pandemic has shown us the hard truth that in-person instruction is so much more than what we take it for at face value,” Brown said. “School is where our kids connect with their community. It’s where many kids get meals and much-needed support from caring adults. It’s a place of comfort, learning and growth.”

There are teachers who aren’t quite sure about a return to in-classroom teaching under current conditions. Some of those educators may be in COVID’s at-risk category.

“Educators and school staff are without a doubt essential to Oregon — and getting our kids back into the classroom is crucial to all of our success,” Brown said. “As we continue to work toward stemming the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, getting our teachers and school staff vaccinated will help ensure we are making learning environments as safe as possible.”

The bottom line here is there are a lot of moving parts with this. As administrators return after the holidays, we should be learning more about Philomath’s approach to the return to classrooms.

(Daily Scoop is a blog published by the Philomath News. This blog often contains news items but also could include opinions of Brad Fuqua, publisher/editor).