Two Portland-area school districts delay reopening plans
At least two school districts in the metro area have put the brakes on their plans to have students physically present in class after much discussion — and even protests — from local parents and teachers.
But it's still full speed ahead for reopening in ten other metro area school districts, Pamplin Media Group has confirmed. Estacada School District began hybrid learning for kindergarteners and first-graders on Jan. 25. Second- through fifth-grade families are expected to arrive, if they so choose, on Feb. 8.
"We believe we're ready to open," said Superintendent Ryan Carpenter. "We've had students in our schools and we've had employees in our schools, and we've been able to prove we can contain the spread when someone comes onto campus with COVID-19."
The Oregon Trail District in Sandy returned about 20 seniors not on track to graduate back into class for limited in-person instruction on Jan. 11. Hybrid learning for other grades has not been announced, but could begin sometime in the next semester which begins Feb. 2.
"All of the schools already have signage and stations in place so we can open safely," said Superintendent Aaron Bayer. "There is also PPE for all students and staff."
The other seven districts who have begun limited in-person learning or have announced concrete plans to do so are Portland Public Schools, as well as school districts in Hillsboro, Corbett, Colton, Newberg, Molalla, Canby and Scappoose.
West Linn-Wilsonville pauses reopening
In West Linn-Wilsonville, superintendent Kathy Ludwig announced a recommendation to amend its reopening plan — pushing the back-to-school date for kindergarten to Feb. 22. The board approved the amendment to the plan 4-1.
Under the new timeline, kindergarten will transition to in-person learning Feb. 22, grade one will return March 1, grade two will return March 3, grade three will return March 8, grades four through six will return March 10, and secondary grades will return March 15.
"A number of our school community will still be unvaccinated when we reopen — all of our students for example," Ludwig said. "When more members of the school community are vaccinated, there is greater stability to the learning environment."
Jennifer Cerasin, president of the district's teachers union, said the school bell shouldn't ring until all staff have been vaccinated, saying county metrics need not only be met, but must show a sustained decline over multiple weeks.
Board member Dylan Hydes, however, disagreed with the recommended amendment.
"What has changed in the past two weeks to make us believe that the plan we agreed was safe two weeks ago is no longer safe?" he said.
The reversal came after a public outcry that saw 600 pink flags planted in the lawn of the West Linn-Wilsonville district office Sunday, Jan. 10, accompanied by signs decrying the district's plan to return to in-person learning. The memorial, meant to honor the lives of 600 educators and students who died of COVID-19 in the U.S., doubled as a warning of what might come when the district reopens.
"How many yearbook pages do we reserve for memorials?" one sign read.
Christine Willey, a teacher and parent in the district, helped organize the event. Persons unknown — presumably district staff — removed the memorial two hours after it was created, she noted.
"Our point was let's keep everybody safe," Willey said. "We don't think anyone should return without having the vaccine while the numbers are as high as they are."
Lake Oswego nixes plans
After garnering headlines as the first metro area school district to publicly announce reopening plans, the district said Friday, Jan. 22, that its restart date would be replaced with a question mark.
While the initial plan was to reopen for in-person learning at elementary schools beginning the first week of February, with all elementary students back in the classroom on a part-time basis by Feb. 25, Lake Oswego School District Superintendent Lora de la Cruz said discussions with teachers and staff, consultation with health authorities and logistical issues prompted the change in schedule.
"After listening to compelling rationale from our teachers and staff, consulting with our local public health authorities, coordinating with vaccine distribution leads, and weighing operational logistics, LOSD needs to change the start for returning elementary students to a later date in February," she said. "I will share a new timeline as soon as possible."
The superintendent noted that middle- and high-school students are now tentatively set to transition back to their desks in the fourth quarter.
The news was a welcome relief for the Lake Oswego district's union leadership.
"There is no other way to say it — Dr. de la Cruz heard that we were scared," Union president Kelly Fitzsimmons said.
Reporters Asia Alvarez Zeller, Brittany Allen, Emily Lindstrand, Teresa Carson and Editor Patrick Malee contributed to this story.
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