Portland students won't return to school until at least November
Portland Public School students won't be returning to classrooms this fall until at least Nov. 5. The school district made the announcement Tuesday afternoon, following new guidance from the state.
Gov. Kate Brown, along with officials from the Oregon Health Authority, announced revised school reopening guidelines using health metrics for COVID-19.
For Multnomah and Washington counties, it's highly unlikely cases will diminish enough to meet the state's metrics.
In Beaverton, students won't return until at least Nov. 13, the Beaverton School District announced.
Portland Public Schools says it will begin the fall semester online, using a "new, comprehensive distance learning model."
All students, pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, will participate in online learning starting Sept. 2 and running through until Nov. 5, or possibly later.
"Nearing the end of the summer now, we all hoped to be in a different reality with this pandemic," Portland Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero said in a message to students and families Tuesday. "We believe it is both responsible and critical to base our decisions on what will best ensure the health and wellness of our students and staff. For those of us who serve in public education, we will always prefer to have our students engaged in classroom-based learning, but given current conditions, it would be unsafe to have significant numbers of students and adults back on campus at this time."
Guerrero said the online learning model should be an improvement over what was offered last spring, when schools had to suddenly shut down and move to remote learning due to COVID-19. At the time, the state advised schools not to bother taking attendance, and students were graded on a pass/fail basis.
Elizabeth Thiel, president of the Portland Teachers Association, said Tuesday's announcement from the state was a relief to teachers.
"Teachers want so badly to be back in live classrooms with students," Thiel said. "It is how we do our best teaching and build relationships, but over the past month, there's been an increased awareness of how dire the situation is becoming. In the spring, I think we all looked forward to this pandemic winding down, but the news cycles over the past few weeks made it clear that's not the case right now. I think the teachers and staff realized what's at stake to go back live."
After initially planning for a hybrid model of in-person instruction and remote learning, the state released updated rules Tuesday, indicating counties will need to show a low number of COVID-19 case numbers before students can step foot in a classroom. According to the new rules, a school district may only reopen to in-person instruction if the county has 10 or fewer COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents and 5% or less increase in positive tests per week. A county must meet those standards for three consecutive weeks to qualify for school reopening. Additionally, Oregon must have a 5% or less positive test rate, according to Brown's new mandate.
Separate, less restrictive rules apply for kindergarten through third grades, which rely more heavily on in-person learning during their formative years to meet critical developmental benchmarks, state officials said. For those younger students, Currently, only one county in Oregon would qualify to reopen its school district.
On Tuesday, Oregon reported 342 new COVID-19 cases, and 14 deaths, the highest in the state to-date. Among those who succumbed to the virus was a 26-year-old from Yamhill County.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.