Virtual world opens up new lines of advocacy communication
Monday, February 1, 2021
The Senate and House Education committees began their work last week with thorough updates on school reopening plans, an indication of the priority they place on it.
The hearings showed off a new aspect for education advocacy. The virtual world gives school board members who normally might have difficulty taking a day off to travel to the Capitol an opportunity to testify on behalf of students’ needs.
These informational-type meetings are typical during the opening days of committees, and the usual agency heads appeared, including Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill and Gov. Kate Brown’s senior education policy adviser, Lindsey Capps. The major education associations were also asked to give presentations from people from the field, rather than the usual lobbyists.
Hillsboro School Board Chair Erika Lopez spoke about her district’s work to get students safely back in the classroom, a familiar challenge across the state. Lopez is an OSBA Board member as well as a director with the Oregon School Board Members of Color Caucus.
Audrie Fox, a junior at Gresham’s Centennial High School, gave some of the most compelling testimony. Fox, director of policy for Oregon Student Voice, offered the students’ perspective, a voice that is often overlooked.
Fox shared her personal experiences in the virtual learning world, as well as that of friends’ experiencing social, emotional and academic impacts.
“The virtual fatigue and the struggle of students to keep up with classes almost created a universal increase in student stress,” she told legislators.
Students are feeling isolated and anxious as well as seeing the inequities in online learning, Fox said.
The student voice has become elevated in all conversations, much like the use of an equity lens.
This virtual environment has also opened up the opportunity to collaborate more with our education partners, far more than in the past. We don’t always agree with other education stakeholders, but this virtual environment has really pushed us all to meet together about policy bills before any committee hearing has been scheduled. This gives us an opportunity to give feedback and try to make the policy better, versus when we were all in person in the Capitol and a bill too often would suddenly appear, putting us on the defensive.
We have worked together with the Coalition of Oregon School Administrators on several advocacy projects already this year. Stand for Children is another partner that tends to look at broader policies in education versus the day-to-day operational types of bills. Currently we are working with them on a bill to help diversify the workforce.
More student and school board member voices and increased collaboration with other education stakeholders help us better share with legislators the impacts of any policy bill.
We will continue to call on our school board leaders to talk with legislators about the impacts on schools of policy bills. Currently, the best way to advocate for your students is to attend your legislators’ virtual town hall meetings. Come prepared to speak about your students and what is needed for them to succeed. If you need help to sign up to receive your legislators' newsletters and town hall information, please give us a call or email.