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Rogue Valley's resilience will get us through

A year that seemed like it packed in more adversity than many decades has come to a close. Mail Tribune reporters took a look back at 2020 in an eight-part series examining the Rogue Valley’s response to the year’s many challenges.

The coronavirus pandemic had the broadest impact, touching the life of every Southern Oregon resident to some degree. Many lost their livelihoods, others their lives, to a new virus that swept the country and the world and continues to wreak havoc.

On top of the economic disruption from the pandemic, the devastating fires of Sept. 8 added an immense burden to thousands of residents who lost their homes in a matter of hours. The cleanup from the fires is still underway, and rebuilding has yet to begin in earnest.

Also in 2020, racial tensions boiled over after the high-profile killings of Breonna Taylor in March in Louisville, Kentucky, and George Floyd in May in Minneapolis, both at the hands of police. Demonstrations swept across the country, including in the Rogue Valley, and the community conversations those events kindled are still going on.

Through it all, Southern Oregon residents have demonstrated time and time again that they are resilient, resourceful and committed to helping each other and their communities.

The last installment in the series focuses on the effects of the pandemic on our public schools, and efforts now underway to prepare to reopen in-person learning, possibly as soon as next month. Educators are scrambling to figure out what reopened schools will look like after months of distance learning turned the lives of students and parents upside down starting last spring.

Teachers have retooled their efforts to impart knowledge and skills to students they see only on a computer screen, and parents have had to juggle working from home and supervising their kids’ remote schooling at the same time. And that’s the parents who are able to work from home, which is not the case for everyone.

Remarkably, the Medford School District school reports elementary students have fared better than expected on tests that measure their progress in reading and other skills despite the remote learning. On the other hand, high school students — ninth-graders are the only group for whom data was available — saw steep declines in reading and math.

Gov. Kate Brown announced in December that the state was dropping the strict metrics that had prevented most school districts from reopening, reasoning that students’ need for in-person instruction outweighed the risk from the coronavirus. Data increasingly show children are less susceptible to contracting the virus, and the advent of effective vaccines should protect adult staff members.

All of this is encouraging, and reason to hope that schools can successfully reopen. It is essential that every teacher and staff member should be offered the vaccine before resuming in-person instruction, however.

School officials are working hard to involve parents in planning for potential reopenings in February, working closely with public health officials. Jackson County Medical Director Dr. Jim Shames hit just the right note when he said teamwork will be key, that “we’re all in this together, that it’s only together we can get out of this thing.”