Hundreds gather in Salem for ‘Open Oregon Schools’ rally


Parents worry about the mental health impacts distance learning will have

SALEM, Ore. (KOIN) — Hundreds of people organized at Salem’s Capitol Building Monday for a rally advocating for the choice for students and teachers to return to the classroom. The demonstration started in the afternoon and continued into the evening.

A sign at the Open Oregon Schools rally in Salem reads, “Technology is not a teacher.” October 5, 2020 (KOIN)

Organizers want state leaders to re-evaluate the metrics leaders use to determine reopening plans. They hope these rallies spark a conversation with Governor Kate Brown and the Department of Education to allow the option to go back to school for those who feel safe doing so.

“It’s been hard because you’re alone most of the day. You see a screen and it’s just a screen. You don’t get to talk to your friends. You go from class to class online,” said one student.

It’s been six months since most Oregon students have sat in a classroom, walked the halls, and played in the gym. Among the parents, teachers, and students who stood in front of the state capitol Monday and called for change was Cascade High School Basketball Coach Travis Newton.

“It’s not just Cascade that I’m advocating for,” said Newton. “This needs to be done statewide. We have kids who love school, but they’re losing that passion for school because they’re not able to be part of something.”

A sign at the Open Oregon Schools rally reads, “In-person Option.” October 5, 2020 (KOIN)

Salem-Keizer music teacher Delee Brown said the metrics leaders used for reopening were unreasonable.

“If we continue to follow these metrics, it will be years until we are able to come back into the school building,” said Brown.

Jessica Davidson, a mother of four who participated in the rally, said it’s been hard juggling a new daily routine, but even harder knowing her children aren’t getting the education she says they deserve.

“I have one child that’s on an IEP and I have one child that’s on a TAG program, so they’re on two different spectrums. And the youngest is not getting the needs met that he has, and my oldest isn’t being challenged the way he should,” explained Davidson.

Other mothers and fathers said they were extremely worried about students’ mental health. Some said that without school, many are battling depression and anxiety.

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“All of us were born to have this connection, to have these relationships, so that alone, aside from the education they’re missing out on, is going to be detrimental to their mental health for a long time if we don’t get something done,” said one parent.

For its part, the Oregon Department of Education said they work closely with the Oregon Health Authority and there are no conversations about making changes to the metrics used for in-person learning. On Thursday, the department released a statement that read, in part: “Families have a right to voice their opinion and ODE knows this is a challenging time for students and families. ODE believes being as consistent as possible statewide, and holding the metrics to their intent, and following them closely as conditions from COVID-19 change is the best way to balance the array of needs.”

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