Back To School 2020 Isn’t Crystal Clear

This time of year in Oregon is filled with anticipation of the fall harvest – and football! – leaves beginning to turn color, and the beginning of a new school year.

And then came 2020.

COVID-19 has had a disruptive effect on so many aspects of our lives, with schools at the top of the list. The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) and school districts statewide have spent the past few months developing new guidelines and metrics for in classroom learning this coming year. These guidelines will affect what vision screening in Oregon public schools will look like in 2020-21. Here’s an overview of the issues that have and will determine whether Lions will be able to screen students for vision health issues and, if so, how many.

ODE School Vision Screening Fund
The good news is that ODE was able to preserve over $400,000 of the legislatively approved School Vision Screening fund that was initially established, with Lions advocacy, in 2017. Thank you for those that reached out to our elected officials to request their support of preserving this fund — it worked and we appreciate your help! The preserved funding is less than half of what was initially budgeted for 2020-21, but will still cover over 125,000 students for objective vision screenings – we screened over 180,000 students last school year.

OLSHF has accelerated grant requests to Oregon foundations and we’re developing new fundraising efforts to cover anticipated new expenses for 2020-21 School Vision Screening (See below). The question now becomes, “When will vision screening begin and will Lions be part of it?”

Will Lions Screen Students This Year?
The State of Oregon has developed COVID-19 metrics for Oregon school districts to meet before being allowed to open for classroom learning for students this fall. OLSHF has been in communication with the 600+ schools where vision screening events are scheduled in 2020-21 and will adjust screening dates as needed to conduct as many of these events as possible. As of this writing, only the smallest of Oregon’s rural school districts have met the state metrics and are on schedule to have classroom learning in September.

Another guideline that will be determined by each school district is the use of outside adult volunteers. ODE’s Ready Schools, Safe Learners, Guidance for School Year 2020-21 requires the restriction of non-essential visitors/volunteers. Each school district will determine whether vision screening volunteers are deemed essential – look for this information on the OLSHF website later this month.

Safety is Our Top Priority
Our 2020 Vision is that one day all Oregon students will have their vision screened each year — but only when safe to do so.

Once schools are open, and our School Vision Screening program is back in action, every precaution will be taken to ensure students, school staff, and OLSHF staff are safe and in adherence to distancing guidelines. We’ve modified our vision screening methodology, extending the distance between student and screener to at least 6’ at all times. We have invested in personal protective equipment, sanitizing materials, and other cleaning supplies and equipment. We will do our best to do our part to slow the spread of the virus — and still strive to identify children that need to see better in order to perform better in the classroom.

These steps have necessitated an effort to secure additional financial support from the private sector and we invite you to introduce us to resources in your community, such as family foundations that support education or health and human services, to help with this effort.

What’s Next?
Fall 2020 will not be normal, by any measure. We may not have football, we’ll continue to avoid crowds and we won’t assemble in large groups.

But we will do our best to prepare to safely screen students at schools as they open, when it is appropriate to do so. And we’ll continue to aspire to screen all Oregon students for vision health issues, even if it doesn’t happen in 2020.

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