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Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced on Wednesday, Dec. 23 that she was directing the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) to implement new policy initiatives, with the goal of putting more school districts on track to return students to in-person instruction, especially elementary students, by February 15, 2021.

“As 2021 approaches and we look to the remaining school year just over the horizon, it is clear that the greatest gift we can give to Oregon’s children this holiday season is to redouble our efforts to act responsibly and reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our communities. Our students’ learning, resilience, and future well-being depend on all of us,” Brown said.

Starting on Friday, Jan. 1, local school districts, not the state, will be able to make decisions on if and when they can send kids back to school — state metrics will shift from mandatory to advisory.

According to Brown, teachers and school staff members will be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccinations, which is why she has directed Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Department of Education to work with schools to provide on-site, rapid testing as a way to address individuals who are either symptomatic or have been potentially exposed to COVID-19.

Brown urges all Oregonians to do their part to follow all protocols in order to increase the number of students that will be allowed to attend in-person classes.

“Each and every Oregonian must do (their) part now to be disciplined and vigilant, to socially distance, wear facial coverings, avoid large gatherings, and follow other necessary public health requirements. The alternative is for Oregonians to remain at risk from the disease for far longer, and for perhaps 90% of Oregon’s students to continue on the unpromising path of spending the remainder of their school year locked out by this virus from their classrooms and youth activities where they best learn, grow, and find connection, safety, and support,” Brown said.

Salem-Keizer Public Schools (SKPS) Superintendent Christy Perry says that she will have an announcement regarding district plans in early January when students return from winter break.

The decision to reopen SKPS schools would likely require school board approval and an agreement between the two unions that represent the majority of district employees.