Portland teachers: Federal aid needed to reopen schools
More resources are needed for Portland schools to safely reopen this fall, according to Portland Association of Teachers President Elizabeth Thiel.
Portland Public Schools released a tentative proposal for restarting schools on Sept. 2 with a "hybrid" plan that includes a limited number of days of classroom instruction and other days of online learning for students every week. One goal is to create enough space in the classrooms for social distancing.
Thiel told the Portland Tribune that teachers will do their best to fulfill the new requirements, but worry the district is not taking enough precautions to shield teachers from the virus. Many teachers are in the older age range and vulnerable population groups, which put them at higher risk of dying from the virus, she said.
"We want to teach, but we don't want to put our lives and the lives of our families at risk," said Thiel, whose union represents more than 4,000 Portland Public Schools educators.
Thiel did not estimate how much more money the district needs to begin the next school year safely, but said federal aid is key to making it happen.
The district released its plan for next year in an online announcement titled "Reimagining Education During the Pandemic" on Saturday, July 11. During the first two weeks of the semester, it includes a time for teachers to individually talk to students, opportunities for families to get familiar with the programs their students will be using, as well as "social emotional engagement in order to help ease the anxiety and stress of the past months" — all of which is conducted remotely.
After the two-week orientation, PPS then plans to use a hybrid model of in-classroom instruction and remote learning. For students in grades ranging from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, classes would be divided into two cohorts. Group A would attend class in-person on Mondays and Tuesdays, Group B on Thursdays and Fridays, and Wednesdays would be used for cleaning school facilities.
This model would allow for physical distancing with only half of students in school on any given day, the announcement said. School officials are exploring a similar model for middle school students.
For high school students, the district has proposed that students take four classes per semester and use a similar cohort model that would have students on campus twice per week. This schedule would allow students to complete a year-long course in one semester.
"For example, a student may have English in the Fall semester and History in the Spring semester. We believe that allowing students to focus on fewer classes will help them be more successful in an environment that is, at least for part of the year, a hybrid model of in-person and online learning," PPS said in the July 11 announcement.
The district also is still working on a full-time distance-learning program for students who might be unable or who would prefer not to visit a physical building for the fall semester, the announcement said.
Thiel said many teachers are unsure the district can enforce the social distancing and additional safety standards, leaving them exposed to the novel coronavirus.
"We want to know we and our students are safe," Thiel said.
One parent of a third grade student said virtual learning hasn't been the best option for them, so they're ready to try in-person learning again. Many others, however, still don't feel safe.
"Personally, I think a hybrid approach is probably the best course of action," said Brad Korpalski, whose kids go to Alameda Elementary. "I wouldn't want to see full distant learning. I mean, it would be very difficult for us to manage that."
The district will not reopen school campuses if public health experts deem it unsafe to do so, in which case education would resume exclusively online and remotely, the announcement said. The curriculum would be different compared to what students experienced this spring, with increased access to instruction and more resources made available.
Readers can find the PPS announcement here.
KOIN News 6 is a news partner of the Portland Tribune and contributed to this story.
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