School Reopening and Confronting Racism in the Community

Senator Wagner

Updates on School Reopening

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Last week, Governor Brown held a press conference to announce that while Oregon has made progress in lowering its daily case counts and infection rate for COVID-19, we still have not reached a point that allows most schools to offer in-person instruction.

For schools to reopen, we need to get the daily case number down to about 60 per day and our number of cases per 100,000 people down from 50 to 10.

I know that there are so many families, teachers, and school staff who are ready to get back into school buildings and return to a routine more closely resembling normal. With four teenagers at home that are hoping to get back to class, sports, and time with their friends, I am aware of the difficulties facing families. I am concerned about the mental health of young Oregonians during these difficult times and am doing what I can to help get them back to school safely.

With a recent 90% increase in COVID-19 cases in children, it is clear that the theory that the Coronavirus rarely affects young people is incorrect. While the effects on young people are still considered minor, they are much more likely to spread the virus after being exposed. Across the country and across the world, we have watched schools reopen only to close down again as cases spike, putting both schools and the wider community at risk. This sends a powerful message: we have to get our numbers under control in order to reopen the right way.

In the meantime, the best thing we can all do for our schools is to continue adhering to the social distancing guidance recommended by the Oregon Health Authority. This includes wearing face masks in public spaces, limiting non-essential trips outside the home, maintaining six feet of physical distance at all times, and practicing good hand hygiene. We’re all in this together, and by remaining dedicated to this guidance, we can help schools reopen sooner.

Community Spotlight: the Kumar Family

Recently, in response to a window painting that showed support for the Black Lives Matter movement, a racist note was left at the Kumar home in Lake Oswego. I was glad to be able to meet with Divya and Nandita Kumar over Zoom to discuss how this event affected them, and how we as a community can do better to reject racism. Below, Divya and Nandita share more about their experience:

Was there a specific event that made you want to write the sign in your window, either in the news or in your life?

For us, it was a culmination of things. Around the time we began painting on our window, we had witnessed a few events that really infuriated us. In addition to the death of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and Geroge Floyd we had noticed a distinct increase in overt racism in Lake Oswego. Whether it be kids posting about Blue Lives Matter or fellow classmates insisting that white privilege didn’t exist, it made us feel more distant from the community than we've ever felt. Painting was an outlet to relieve all this frustration.

Tell us about the note. How did it make you feel?

Though we weren't surprised by it, it made us feel small, like we had two choices, to bend to the will of the community or deal with the repercussions of being ostracized. We think that’s how a lot of people feel here in Lake Oswego. Like we’re already separate from everyone else, so we should do the community the decency of assimilating as much as possible. It feels as if people want you to feel lucky that you’re even here.

What do you want the people who sent you the note to know? About you? About the Black Lives Matter Movement?

We want them to know that our intention was never to come after the white community, but just to raise awareness to an issue that many people of color are forced to think about on a daily basis. Racism can be uncomfortable, and we understand that. It’s difficult to see your community as anything other than pristine and welcoming. But if this many people are going outside and marching, speaking, begging for change, then there is a real issue. It’s important to listen to those around you and do what you can with the power you have to make a change. Black Lives Matter is not a “radical leftist mob”. It’s just a statement. Statements like “all lives matter” can be inflammatory because of course all lives matter, but innocent white lives are not at risk of being ruthlessly and endlessly taken by police officers. Right now, one house on our block is burning, so why toss water on all the houses when we should be helping the house that needs saving right now?

For centuries, black lives have been valued far less than those of white Americans. Imagine what it would feel like if your country promised to protect you under any circumstances and then immediately killed your brother, sister, uncle or mother. You would be reasonably hurt, right? So you decide to kneel during the national anthem, to show your support of a movement that affects you and those you love every single day. And you get fired. So you peacefully protest, to show that bullets can't stop the voices of millions of the oppressed, and you get tear gassed. Then you riot, and your country questions the property value of the best buy that was broken into, without giving even a second glance to the millions of black and brown lives that have been lawfully taken by police officers. So no, Black Lives Matter is not working to enrage or burn, but to support all black lives so that we are not once again forced to witness, and unable to stop, yet another instance of police brutality.

How can Lake Oswego do better? What steps do you think would help change the culture?

In Lake Oswego, kids in junior high and high school are not often reprimanded for their actions. Maximum, a kid will get detention or suspension for one day and that downplays the effect of their behavior. On top of this, detention or suspension doesn’t teach kids why what they said or did was wrong. It often just makes them bitter. We think educating children about slavery and it’s reaches to our criminal justice system, from policing to bail, to the shortage of public defenders, the school to prison pipeline, punitive sentencing, incarceration, and even re-entry into society from prison is really important. We think many people have been taught that racism existed but its “all better now”. The fact of the matter is that it is very much alive in our society today. 

What has the response from the community been like?

As for support from the community, we have received so many kind words from everyone in Lake Oswego. From the sign waving in downtown to the march in Lake Grove, we have felt so welcome by so many people. On the flip side of that coin however many people believe that we have been faking the whole affair. They think that we did this for the news coverage. As youth, we have received a death threat. And though it hurts to hear it, it’s important to remind ourselves that the greater number of people have been doing so much work to make Lake Oswego a safe place for the BIPOC community.

Vaping Public Health Work Group Releases Recommendations

Earlier this year, Governor Brown convened a workgroup of doctors and experts in pulmonology, pediatrics and public health, as well as state legislators and state agency representatives to consider possible policy solutions to reduce youth vaping and vaping related illness.

The nationwide epidemic of vaping-related illness needs our attention more than ever as we simultaneously battle a virus that attacks the respiratory system. The health and safety of Oregon’s youth, who have used vaping products at increasingly high rates, is especially at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. Taking action is critical, and the Vaping Public Health Work Group has made recommendations for how we might do that.

The recommendations of the Vaping Public Health Work Group include banning the use of flavored e-cigarettes and other flavored vaping tobacco products, banning online and phone sales of e-cigarettes and other vaping products, instituting tobacco retail licensing and more. For more details, read the full report from the work group.

After hosting a town hall on youth vaping last winter, I am encouraged to see this work moving forward. I will continue to monitor the work group and its recommendations closely - as a former school board chair and father of four teenagers, I know that we have to do better across the state to protect the health of young people.

Get Counted - 2020 Census

Get Counted!

Please remember to return your Census. We must make sure Oregon has a complete Census count, as our total population determines the state's federal funding allocation and congressional representation for the next decade. This week Oregon became just the seventh state to match its 2010 self-response rate, but we are still only ranked at 17th in the nation for our self-response rate so far. It is in every Oregonian's best interest to turn in our Census forms because the more people that report, the more accurately our state will be funded and represented for the next ten years.

To learn more about how to get counted and why your Census report counts, consider visiting We Count Oregon for resources or go directly to

Please tell everyone you know about the importance of the Census and how they can get counted.

Remember the 3 Ws

As always, whether you're staying close to home or traveling in these last few weeks of summer, please make sure to follow the three W's: wear your mask, watch your distance and wash your hands.

Please let me know if you need any assistance in the weeks and months ahead. My office and I will work to connect you with resources and get answers as quickly as possible.



Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner
Senate District 19

email: I phone: 503-986-1719
address: 900 Court St NE, S-223, Salem, OR, 97301