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Students with special needs and recent immigrants will be among first to return.

COURTESY PHOTO - Students must have 35 square feet of space each, as shown in this still from a recent informational video shot by the East County school district. The Gresham-Barlow School District will bring back a small number of students to school buildings for in-person learning beginning the first week in March.

"I'm excited to bring kids back in a limited fashion," Katrise Perera, superintendent of Gresham-Barlow schools said in an online presentation to the Gresham Area Chamber of Commerce Tuesday, Feb. 16. In the presentation, Perera said students would come back the last week in February, but the district later clarified it would be early March.

Gresham-Barlow will begin limited in-person instruction (LIPI) with a targeted group of elementary students, then add some middle and high school students after spring break, she said.

"For now, we'll begin without littles," she said.

Under LIPI, only a small number of students are eligible to come back to school buildings.

Gresham-Barlow students targeted to come back in the LIPI program are those with extra educational or behavioral needs and assigned to specialized programs. Students who have been in the country less than a year and are learning English and students in REY Academy, the district's alternative high school, will also be invited to participate in the LIPI program.

Gresham-Barlow canceled school Tuesday, Feb. 23, so teachers and staff can get additional health and safety training.

The district said earlier it was holding off on bringing students back to buildings until staff had the opportunity to be vaccinated against COVID-19. School employees have been eligible for inoculations since Jan. 25 in "waves" or phases, depending on their specific jobs.

The Reynolds School District has said it will continue to teach students remotely through at least March 26.

Most students in public schools in Oregon have been attending school remotely since March of 2020. On Jan. 19, the state loosened rules about school buildings reopening, leaving the decision up to the districts.

But districts still must follow more than 160 safety guidelines if students return to schoolhouses. Students must have at least 35 square feet of space, everyone must stay 6 feet apart and students can only come in contact with 100 people or fewer per week during school.

Perera did not say when Gresham-Barlow students might be back in buildings for so-called hybrid learning, which includes more students. Under hybrid models often discussed by districts, students would be back in buildings for a couple of hours per day for a few days per week and would learn remotely the rest of the time.

Portland Public Schools plan to roll out hybrid learning in April, starting with its youngest students.

Portland Public started with LIPI several weeks ago, beginning at Madison High School and rolling out to other schools gradually. PPS has brought about 235 students in 15 schools back for LIPI already. These students are some that have been struggling with remote learning. For example, some may be high school students shy of credits to graduate.

LIPI will be expanded to all of Portland's schools in the next few weeks, administrators have said.

The Portland district, also has 4,200 athletes participating in conditioning workouts and is beginning to "invite" back students to participate in visual and performing arts.

Gresham-Barlow also has had student athletes engaged in conditioning workouts for weeks and football teams have been able to practice since Feb. 8.

Perera said the district is moving to get students back at their desks "as fast as we can and as slow as we must."

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