It's been nine months since students in Oregon were forced to leave their schools and turn their homes into classrooms. But even as coronavirus cases continue to rise in the state, parents, students, and teachers are coming together, demanding that state leaders reopen schools.
"Children can't play football or volleyball, but they can work at a fast-food restaurant? It's the wrong choice," explained Rene Gonzalez, founder of Reopen Portland Schools.
Gonzalez was just one of the organizers of Sunday's rally outside of Washington High School in Southeast Portland. The gathering was apart of a cross-country movement urging leaders to give students an in-person learning option.
According to Gonzales, his group is demanding the four following things by January 6, 2021:
- Mandate in-person options for every Oregon child by January 6, 2021, the 300th day of school closures, and remove state and local restrictions that preclude in-person offering
- Prioritize teachers and school staff in programs for both vaccination and COVID-19 testing by clearly identifying school employees as essential workers
- Focus on ventilation in schools, adopting low-cost solutions in the short-term while providing funding for long-term improvements
- Open school grounds to children
Those at the rally on Sunday say their first demand does not mean that all students have to return to the classroom. They say parents and students should have the choice to return if they want to--same for teachers. Those who want to stay home should be able to.
Other speakers at the rally included students and teachers. They shared how distance learning has been difficult for them. One eighth-grader compared it to being in a glass box. She read a letter to the crowd that she sent to the State Senate.
"Do you remember how fun it was to be a kid? Now imagine someone taking it all away from you and putting you inside a glass box," the student explained. "It is one of the most lonely, isolated places I have been in my whole life."
Similar rallies were also held in New York and Georgia.
At the end of October, Governor Kate Brown loosened some metrics and guidelines for reopenings schools on a county-by-county basis.
To reopen schools for all grade levels under the new guidelines, the case rate needs to be 50 cases per 100,000 people or less to reopen for counties with a population over 30,000 people. For counties smaller, the case rate needs to be 30 cases per 100,000 people or less. In both cases, the positive test percentage must be 5% or less.
There are tiered levels now to reopen for lower grades, an option not previously allowed under earlier metrics.