Medford School Board Letter to Governor Brown
March 19, 2021
To the Honorable Governor Brown, Director Allen, and Deputy Superintendent Gill,
We urge you to make necessary revisions to the state’s Ready Schools, Safe Learners (RSSL) requirements to reflect Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) guidance so all our region’s students can return to full-time instruction. The Medford School District (MSD) is ready to do this safely; our students and families are more than ready to return to in-person learning at the rate they deserve. While we are in hybrid learning, two or three days in person simply is not enough. Our students are suffering.
Specifically, we are seeking two changes:
1: Reduce Physical Distancing Requirement from Six to Three Feet
According to today’s new CDC distancing guidelines, if districts continue implementing other mandatory safety measures (such as the universal requirement of face coverings), there is no increased risk of transmission when distancing is reduced from six to three feet. Another study recently published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases found there was no difference in COVID-19 rates between Massachusetts schools that mandated three feet of physical distance compared to six feet, as long as everyone wore masks.
2: Local Control
MSD has served students in-person to the greatest extent allowed by state guidance since the start of school in September. The focus on implementing rigorous safety guidance while serving students in-person is regular and routine for our administrators, teachers, staff, students, and families. This makes MSD prepared to increase the level of in-person instruction, while working closely with Jackson County Public Health. For example, the goal of moving to three feet of physical distancing is to ensure all students are able to return to school full time. If we were able to implement three feet of social distancing to the greatest extent possible, and work with Jackson County Public Health for other ways to mitigate spread, it would ensure all of our students being able to return.
As a region, we have been committed since last summer to returning our students to the classroom. Our schools have proven to be safe for students and staff; our staff have had several opportunities to be vaccinated; and we have provided alternatives for students and families who cannot return. We urge you to visit our schools to see both our successes in following RSSL requirements and our challenges in the absence of changes.
Finally, we ask you to review just a few stories from our families below and consider the requested changes to RSSL with a sense of urgency. Like the CDC and WHO, our risk assessments must include the mental health effects of our students NOT being allowed in schools full time. If we can get them back in classrooms full time this spring, they (and our schools) will be ready to hit the ground running in the fall. There is no time to spare with the amount of time and learning already lost due to this unprecedented pandemic.
We believe these changes reflect international studies and current science, and we believe they are appropriate in a landscape where more individuals are vaccinated daily. The sense of urgency for our students in Oregon cannot be overstated.
Medford School District Board of Directors
Jeff Kinsella, Board Chair
Suzanne Messer, Board Vice Chair
Lilia Caballero, Board Member
Jim Horner, Board Member
Tod Hunt, Board Member
Karen Starchvick, Board Member
Cynthia Wright, Board Member
A few comments from Medford School District families received this week:
My freshman daughter, while sitting at her screen all day long (often for more than 9 hours/day)--has gotten into the bad habit of picking at the acne on her face as she just sits there all day (something she just wouldn't be doing if she wasn't behind a screen) and now has a face literally covered with bloody red sores. She's also gained quite a bit of weight this year because of the lack of activity sitting around all day long. She quit volleyball because of all the uncertainty and how limited and stressful it was for her as a new freshman. And I just couldn't bring myself to make her stick with something that was causing so much worry and stress for her. You can imagine how a 15 year-old-girl might be feeling about herself under these conditions.
My 6th grader has struggled the most with trying to learn in this zoom teaching format. He is a smart kid but learns a little slower and differently than my older two kids. He has had math tests this year where it's taken him 6 hours to complete and so much sobbing and crying because he doesn't know how to do any of the problems on the test. He's just finding out now that he really didn't understand the steps his teacher was teaching, but because of the online, lack of personal connection, she had no idea he was so confused. He didn't even know how confused he was himself. It's made his self views take a huge dive, he thinks he's stupid and worthless because of this.
The current hybrid model is not sustainable for long term learning. My 4th grader isn't receiving the same caliber of education as my 1st grader, although she is tackling much more complex concepts. Our teachers are fantastic and doing the best they can, but 2 days of instruction is just not enough.
At our elementary school, like so many others, everyone from the principal to the teachers to the janitorial staff have used their creative brains to work miracles in every situation that has arisen. Because of the current 6’ distancing metrics, our school has had to utilize every inch of space to accommodate our students. Some of us are working in repurposed storage rooms. Don’t worry, we have made them safe and beautiful (think paper flowers and Dollar Store kites). However, because of the limited space, we are unable to accommodate the students in person. Because of COVID-19 and the lean academic instruction they have received for over a year, the need for intervention is greater than ever. Despite the need, we continue to zoom with students in their classrooms down the hall. Being at school has not eliminated the technology problems we face; poor connections, malfunctioning Chromebooks and faulty headphones. I have had more than one student in tears because they couldn’t hear me or I couldn’t hear them, and they were missing out on the lesson. Multiple studies have shown that the most effective time to reach struggling learners is between Kindergarten and 3rd grade. I am afraid we are missing our greatest window of opportunity with these students.