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The Hillsboro School District hopes to bring the youngest students back to in-person learning by March 29.

PMG FILE PHOTO: - The Hillsboro School District will allow all staff to receive COVID-19 vaccines before being required to return to school in-person.The Hillsboro School District plans to bring its youngest students back to in-person learning by March 29.

At a meeting Tuesday, Jan. 26, Hillsboro School Board members unanimously agreed to provide all staff the opportunity to receive two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and go through a recommended waiting period before being required to physically return to work, the district said in an update Wednesday.

Using available vaccine distribution timelines, the Hillsboro School District expects to have one-fifth of its staff vaccinated by mid-March, with additional fifths being vaccinated each following week.

Hillsboro's timeline would allow students in pre-kindergarten through the second grade to begin in-person learning five days per week by March 29.

In subsequent weeks, starting with the third and fourth grades, higher grade levels could return to in-person learning two days per week, said Beth Graser, spokesperson for the district.

The district began offering limited in-person learning to small cohorts of students who need extra support weeks ago.

The updated plan pushes back a previously drafted timeline released earlier in January, which stated a goal of bringing the youngest students back by mid to late-February.

But the timeline could change again, district officials caution.

"This timeline is dependent on vaccination availability," Hillsboro Superintendent Mike Scott told board members Tuesday. "We hope this is the timeline that we can pull off, but we will continue to get updated on the vaccination availability throughout the next several weeks."

In December, Gov. Kate Brown announced that previously mandated school COVID-19 metrics would become advisory, allowing districts to determine when they would return to in-person learning.

Last week, state education officials released updated advisory metrics for districts hoping to bring students back.

The metrics, based on research from the Harvard Global Health Institute, say elementary school students can return to in-person learning if local COVID-19 cases fall below 350 per 100,000 people during a two-week period.

During the two-week period ending Jan. 23, Washington County's case rate was 289.4 cases per 100,000 residents.

"Expanding to middle and high school students will require our COVID case rate to be at or below 200 per 100,000 of population," the Hillsboro School District said in a statement, referring to the new metrics.

Brown stirred controversy after she recently placed educators at a higher priority than seniors living on their own to receive vaccines.

School staff were able to register to receive vaccines starting Monday, Jan. 25.

The Hillsboro School District is currently in bargaining negotiations with the Hillsboro Education Association, the district's teachers union, over how to return to in-person learning.

The district's decision to make returning contingent upon vaccine availability for all staff may appease teachers who have been reluctant to return without additional safety resources being available, including vaccines.

According to a recent survey, 83% of licensed staff said they would either not return, or preferred not to return, before they had the option for a COVID vaccination, the Hillsboro Education Association said in a Jan. 20 newsletter.

Students will be allowed to remain in the comprehensive distance learning model five days per week if they choose, district officials said Tuesday, adding families will receive a survey allowing them to indicate whether their students plan to return to in-person learning.

Travis Reiman, the Hillsboro School District's assistant superintendent, emphasized Hillsboro's need to remain flexible in the hybrid model, offering both comprehensive distance learning and in-person learning.

"We need to be flexible in our delivery model and keep kids in a community of learners," Reiman said.

He said the school district will discourage students from switching between comprehensive distance learning and in-person learning once it begins.

"We want a predictable number of students in class and online, because we can support them easier that way," Reiman explained.

While hoping the picture continues to clear as they proceed toward a partial reopening by late March, Hillsboro schools officials see COVID-19 infections among the student population as inevitable.

Reiman said, bluntly, that there will be times when some students need to quarantine due to contact tracing protocols, and will be unable to attend school in person, after contact with someone who is known to be infected.

"We know that students are going to experience illness, they're going to experience quarantine and contact with family members," Reiman said.

District officials also emphasized the need to implement COVID-19 screening protocols, including at-home checks and temperature checks for all students upon entering school buildings.

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