A sea of adults and children gathered late afternoon Monday along NW Bond Street in downtown Bend for a rally to reopen public schools. Their goal: get state officials’ attention, loosen COVID-19 school reopening requirements, and end online-only learning.
“The instruction they’re getting now is not adequate,” said Amy Ferris, whose daughter attends Mountain View High School in Bend. “The teachers are doing everything they possibly can, but the technical glitches make it too hard.”
As of 4:30 p.m., about 150 people were present at the rally. Many held signs with slogans like “Screens aren’t school,” “Kids need interaction not isolation” or “Our children our choice.”
Along with the rally, a number of parents pledged to not log their children into online distance learning Monday, as a one-day virtual strike.
It is unclear how many families participated in the virtual strike as of Monday evening, as Bend-La Pine doesn’t receive daily online attendance numbers until the next day, said district spokeswoman Julianne Repman.
Kelly Dlach — a Bend mother of three students at Pine Ridge Elementary who organized the rally and virtual strike — said she was inspired to lead the local effort after seeing similar groups in other parts of Oregon such as Salem and Medford.
Dlach called the school reopening metrics — which require counties to meet a certain threshold of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents for three straight weeks — “unattainable.”
But she also was upset that while schools stayed closed, Oregon made sure to reopen bars, day care centers and other parts of daily life.
“Right now, public schools are the only thing closed, and I don’t think that makes any sense,” Dlach said before the rally.
On a Facebook event page for the rally, Dlach urged participants to wear face masks, stay socially distant and avoid bringing signs that directly attack Gov. Kate Brown, teachers’ unions or teachers themselves.
Although most signs were apolitical, there were a few signs attacking the governor or the press, such as “School over media fear,” “Hey Kate! Your metrics are hurting our children,” and “Brown is a clown.” The latter sign was held by a young child at one point in the rally.
Although many at the rally wore face masks, a few did not. And the crowd was tightly packed on the sidewalk.
Danielle White, a kindergarten teacher at Three Rivers School in Sunriver, said teachers should return to classrooms if they feel comfortable.
“As a teacher, we have a great immune system: we’re around germs all the time,” said White. “I’m not really worried about getting sick.”
Bend-La Pine Superintendent Lora Nordquist said she sympathized with these families, but the district was stuck with the state’s rules.
Nordquist suggested that the state should consider restricting other activities, such as bowling and retail, to help bring COVID-19 numbers down so students could return to classes.
“My kids can play youth soccer, my teenager can have a job at McDonalds, but they can’t go to school. It’s hard to justify that to people, because I don’t understand it myself,” Nordquist said in a phone interview. “It doesn’t feel, to me, that our state is saying in-person education is a really high priority for us.”