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Some younger students could return to classrooms as soon as next month, the Hillsboro School District says.

PMG FILE PHOTO - The first day of elementary school in Hillsboro in September 2018 — a day that looked very different this past September as schools have largely remained closed for in-person instruction.The Hillsboro School District has laid out a tentative timeline for bringing students back to in-person instruction.

In an update Wednesday, Jan. 13, the district said it plans to begin the process of bringing students back by expanding limited in-person instruction for students with special needs at certain schools in the coming weeks.

A cohort of students with special needs and two cohorts of students being served through the BLAST program, an afterschool program for early learners, began limited in-person Monday, Jan. 11.

Limited in-person instruction has been allowed under the state's Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance during comprehensive distance learning for students who have demonstrated a need for extra support with academics, social-emotional needs and/or internet connectivity.

The Hillsboro School District's goal will be to make limited in-person instruction available to cohorts of students at all schools by mid-February, it stated

Expanding limited in-person instruction will start at high schools for seniors who need support to graduate, at Title I elementary schools for students in grades K-2 and at the district's preschool programs, the district said, adding that other grades will follow.

Hillsboro's announcement stressed that limited in-person instruction is a supplemental offering to core instruction and it doesn't take distance learning's place.

"Beginning full-time or hybrid in-person learning for students is a bit more complicated, as it does constitute core instruction and will need to be offered equitably to all students at a given grade level, based on the roll-out plan," the school district said.

The details of doing transportation, meal service and in-person instruction for all students at certain grade levels while abiding by health and safety protocols still need to be worked out.PMG FILE PHOTO - Wearing protective equipment, workers sanitize classroom equipment and furniture March 8, 2020, at South Meadows Middle School in Hillsboro, after a student tested positive for COVID-19.

The Hillsboro School District set a goal of bringing students in grades PreK-2 back to in-person learning by mid to late-February, students in grades 3-6 by spring break and to middle and high school by mid-April.

"Our ability to actually do so will be guided by several things," the district said.

Cases of COVID-19 in Washington County need to be within the range deemed acceptable by state education and health officials in the two weeks leading up to the return to in-person learning, the district said, adding that it also needs to complete bargaining agreements with the district's two employee unions and ensure schools can abide by safety protocols outlined in state guidance.

"Again, this is a very tentative timeline, tied to many contingencies; however, it represents our best thinking at this time," the statement added.

Hillsboro school officials will also look to Jan. 19, when when the Oregon Department of Education plans to update metrics for returning to in-person instruction in its Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance.

Another update from the Hillsboro School District will follow the new metrics, the district said, adding that it will begin providing weekly updates after that.

The district said it also plans to hold a live question and answer session with Superintendent Mike Scott and other members of the executive team in early February.

The update from the Hillsboro School District comes after Gov. Kate Brown on Dec. 23 announced she would give individual school districts the power to decide when to return to in-person instruction.

Brown urged districts to aim to bring students back to in-person instruction by mid-February, adding that state officials would meanwhile develop new safety metrics.

The announcement spurred push back from many teachers and parents, who said better access to resources such as COVID-19 tests and vaccines would be needed in schools before returning to in-person instruction.PMG FILE PHOTO - Comcast employees fill backpacks with school supplies at Lincoln Street Elementary School in Hillsboro in 2019.

The presidents of teachers unions representing Oregon's five largest school districts — including Hillsboro — sent a letter to Brown on Jan. 7 critiquing her decision and asking for better access to resources before beginning in-person instruction.

Jill Golay, president of the Hillsboro Education Association, was a signatory of the letter.

On Tuesday, Jan. 12, Brown said she would expand eligibility for the vaccine to people older than 65 and those working in schools starting Saturday, Jan. 23. The decision came after the federal government announced it would release its full supply of vaccine doses to states and lower the eligibility to age 65.

Most of Oregon's largest school districts are taking a similar approach to the Hillsboro School District.

Portland Public Schools officials have said they will focus on limited in-person instruction. Others have said they will wait for additional information from the state before making decisions.

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