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Portland Public Schools will offer remote learning option for students with health issues during 2021-22 school year.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Staff at Jason Lee Elementary School in Southeast Portland help first-grade students get settled during the first day back on campus in March 2021. Portland Public Schools will offer online learning for a limited number of students next year.Portland Public Schools will offer fully remote education options for a limited number of students come fall, but the deadline to apply is fast approaching.

Parents and families have until Friday, July 30, to {obj:55582:apply for the districts new Online Learning Academy}. District administrators said OLA was created using $6 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to give medically fragile students an educational option for the 2021-22 school year that doesn't require them to be on campus.

"We have said all along that if a student has health-related issues that would put them at a higher risk of some serious health issues due to COVID, that we really want to make sure we are offering students an online learning environment," said Brenda Martinek, chief of student support services with PPS. Martinek said the online learning option is for students with health-related needs or extenuating medical-related issues that could be mitigated with online learning.

The online learning option will be available for 500 students in the fall, on a lottery-based system prioritizing medically fragile students, those with health issues that could be reduced by learning from home, and those who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. More slots will become available in the second semester, Martinek said. If the district doesn't get 500 applicants, it will keep the application period open, district staff told the school board Tuesday, July 27.

Under the remote learning model, students would have a combination of live, virtual instruction and independent or asynchronous work.

"We have separated it into a K-5 and a 6-12 programming model that will include live instruction, and some self-driven work," Martinek said. "We will have live instruction and whole group classrooms for K-5 students because we do believe that having a live teacher in front of students, especially our early learners, is crucial to continuing to establish that rapport and that relationship with students and families."

Martinek said sixth- through 12th-graders will do more asynchronous, self-driven work with some whole class live sessions.

The new OLA came as a result of roughly 15,000 students choosing to stay in the distance learning model during the last school year, even as schools reopened for limited in-person instruction, school district leaders said.

PPS staff personally reached out to about 1,000 families who would be likely candidates for full-time remote learning this fall, administrators said. The district also held information sessions with parents and emailed families about the application period.

PPS board members were concerned about the quick deadline to apply, noting the PPS website currently offers no information about the OLA. Others inquired about the costs of the program, staffing and the feasibility for single parents and those who can't afford childcare.

"Are these PPS teachers or are we going out to get new teachers?" PPS Director Herman Greene asked. "If so, where are we getting these teachers from when we're already struggling to get teachers within our schools right now?"

PPS expects to hire 48 staffers to administer the remote learning academy, offering roughly one remote learning class per grade. Martinek said new staff would be hired from within the Portland metro and Vancouver, Wash., areas.

Students not enrolled in the Online Learning Academy are expected back on campus five days a week, starting this fall.

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