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Hillsboro School District officials recently fielded parents' questions about returning to in-person learning.

PMG FILE PHOTO: - Hillsboro School District Superintendent Mike ScottHillsboro School District officials said Wednesday, Feb. 17, that progress on vaccinations for teachers and other staff is on track to start bringing students back into classrooms after spring break, as planned.

Weeks ago, the district provided a timeline for bringing students back using a phased, grade-based approach, starting with the youngest learners, as recommended by the Oregon Department of Education.

The plan was contingent on giving teachers and other staff the opportunity to receive both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine before returning to their work sites.

The district estimates that by Tuesday, Feb. 23, all eligible teachers and staff working in pre-kindergarten through the eighth grade will have had the opportunity to receive their first dose, officials said Wednesday.

A final group of teachers and staff, including those working in high schools, substitutes and coaches, will begin to register for vaccines starting Thursday, Feb. 18.

The number of appointments available Thursday would not cover everyone in that group in the Portland metro area, officials said. However, they expect everyone in the final group to receive their first dose by early March.

As students' learning and opportunities to socialize remain hindered by distance learning, many parents have been eager to send their kids back to school as soon as possible.

Other parents have been more tentative.

"Get schools open — that is a clear charge that we have," said Superintendent Mike Scott during a virtual Q&A with parents and district officials Feb. 10. "But do it in a safe manner. We know that there are families out there that would be back in right now, and they wouldn't even be that concerned about some of the guidelines. We also know that there are families out there that are concerned about coming back regardless of the safeguards."

If parents choose, Hillsboro students in pre-kindergarten through the second grade can return for a shortened day five days a week starting March 29, with students in grades 3-4, 5-6 and 7-12 returning each subsequent week, with a hybrid model of two days per week in person.

The district's plan to mitigate infections at schools focuses on daily at-home and at-school health checks, mask-wearing, social distancing, and keeping students in cohorts, with no one coming into contact with more than 100 others per week.

But with more than 800 people tuning into the virtual Q&A, many parents still had questions.

Via an online form, parents asked district officials whether their students will miss out on instruction if they choose to keep them in the comprehensive distance learning model when schools open for in-person.

Dayle Spitzer, assistant superintendent for school performance, said officials have tried to mimic the schedule students are currently using in distance learning when creating the schedule that will be used for in-person, allowing students in one class — both at home and in person — to learn together.

Travis Reiman, assistant superintendent for academic services, said the district is committed to providing equitable outcomes regardless of what learning model parents choose.

"We know that it can't be identical — the experience that the students would have who are learning from home as the students who are in person — but hope that we can have a balanced approach," Reiman said.

Asked how teachers and staff will handle students who don't follow rigid rules related to mask-wearing or social distancing, Reiman said the initial approach will be to educate students about the importance of the safety measures.

"When it comes to putting others at risk, there's a possibility that we would ask a student to continue learning in CDL if they were unable to follow the rules," he said, adding that state guidance says school officials are not to punish students for health-related behaviors.

In response to parent concerns about students' learning being affected in the long term by comprehensive distance learning, district officials said they're broadly tracking students' grades and identifying students who have had difficulties engaging in distance learning due to a lack of adequate remote resources or a disability.

They emphasized the availability of limited in-person learning, which has been offered to students who have fallen behind or need extra support for weeks.

Reiman said officials are also exploring expanded summer school opportunities for students who need it.

"Please know we are doing everything we can to meet your students' needs," said Elaine Fox, director of student services. "Please let us know if for some reason you are struggling with a student who is experiencing disability or has an (individualized education program)."

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