SALEM

The Oregon Department of Education, Early Learning Division, and Oregon Health Authority urge Oregonians to put safety first as they look to solutions for child care and multi-family learning options this fall.

The agencies are prioritizing opening Oregon’s schools to in-person instruction amidst the COVID-19 pandemic as soon as state metrics show safety and stability can be provided for students, staff and the families they return to each day. Every Oregonian can help the agencies get closer to opening schools to in-person instruction by following the three W’s: watch your distance, wear a face covering, and wash your hands. The best chance to achieve equity for students and to meet their needs is to get them back to in-person learning.“Multi-family learning groups may slow the process of returning to school by creating more opportunities for spread among students and families,” Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill said. “These groups also risk leaving out students who are already underserved by our school system. I deeply hope that as students and parents grapple with multi-family learning, they take into account the health and equity implications of these gatherings.”As families choose to come together either informally or through community organizations, COVID-19 is more likely to spread and could lengthen the time before schools can return to in-person instruction. Even a small group of people can lead to a large number of cases.“The longer it takes for all schools to resume in person instruction, the greater the possibility that gaps will widen for families in rural communities and communities of color,” Gill said.OHA is reminding families that it continues to be important to limit or avoid gatherings, to wear face coverings when outside the home, and to make efforts to reduce exposure to people outside the household, even in stable group settings. In-person learning groups that neglect to follow these public health guidelines increase the likelihood of spread of COVID-19.

“Oregonians coming together for any purpose, including learning, need to continue to be cautious,” said Dean Sidelinger, M.D., M.S.Ed., state health officer and state epidemiologist. “Coming together in any group, even small groups to facilitate learning, brings additional risk. Many outbreaks in Oregon have been traced to multi-family gatherings of various types.”

”Families still have options. Schools can offer limited in-person instruction in accordance with the Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance.It is also important to note that child care is not operating as business as usual. Providers must follow strict safety and health guidelines to help control spread of the virus to families, children and staff. If multiple families decide to form a learning group and a parent isn’t present, ELD has advised on what constitutes regulated child care to protect the safety of children and families. This includes performing a background check on caregivers, ensuring they are CPR and First Aid trained, along with other protocols such as daily health checks, increasing cleaning, and wearing face coverings.

“We want to support parents during this difficult time, and understand child care is both a critical need and hard to find,” said Early Learning System Director Miriam Calderon. “Our solutions to this challenge must recognize that the regulations we have in place are working to make child care safe to use during this pandemic, and prevent community spread of the virus. The regulations are more important than ever as we work together to make it safe for children to return to school.”

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