Portland Public Schools plans to reopen campuses by April 8
Portland schools aren't likely to fully reopen for the rest of the school year, but students will have a chance to go back to the classroom this spring.
Updated plans unveiled by Portland Public Schools Tuesday, Jan. 26, call for a phased approach to limited in-person instruction, or LIPI, beginning this week. PPS started inviting some students who are falling behind or need extra support back to Madison High School for limited on-site learning.
On Feb. 8, the district plans to reopen 19 different school sites to limited in-person learning, or LIPI. The limited in-person learning plans will have students on campus for about two hours a day.
The district stressed rigorous safety measures, including daily disinfection of classrooms, controlled and limited peer groups to ensure the same cohort of students on campus each day, restricted class sizes and spatial barriers between each student that allow for 35 square feet of distance, while still requiring masks to be worn by everyone on campus.
More school sites will be opened on Feb. 22, under the PPS plan. By March 1, district officials plan to reopen all PPS sites to limited in-person instruction, again for only two hours per day, for struggling students.
The significant shift is expected to come April 8, when PPS plans to reopen its sites for hybrid instruction to elementary and middle school students. That means families can choose whether to go back to in-person learning a few days a week. Families may also choose to keep students in comprehensive distance learning. The district noted it's still working on a plan for how to safely offer hybrid instruction to high school students.
The new plans came in the wake of recent updates from Gov. Kate Brown's office that relaxed school reopening guidelines.
"In early January, the state revised the guidelines again, for the metrics, and with this latest revision we find ourselves in a very different position, where the metrics now would support an immediate expansion of in-person services to students and that's exactly what we're going to do," Dr. Russell Brown, chief of systems performance for PPS, said Tuesday.
In early February, the district plans to deploy an online form for families of elementary and middle school students, to gauge whether they prefer hybrid learning or to remain in comprehensive distance learning.
Under the latest reopening plans, district officials say they expect most PPS students to be in some form of hybrid learning by early spring.
PPS board directors got a preview of the reopening plans Tuesday.
"I think what's going to be really important over the next few weeks is we need to be sharing the evidence that's out there about the safety of reopening schools," Director Andrew Scott said, after asking if the district could accelerate the reopening timeline. PPS Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero explained that the district still needs to abide by Oregon Health Authority metrics and monitor local infection rates.
"We need to be transparent about everything we're doing to keep our teachers safe, because the bottom line is our kids and our community are going to need our teachers to feel and to be safe so that we can start repairing some of the damage this virus is doing to our social and emotional wellbeing," Scott added.
The reopening plans are contingent on teachers getting vaccinated.
Monday, Jan. 25, marked the first day that teachers and school employees were eligible to receive the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. School district staff acknowledged the state's "rocky" vaccine rollout and scheduling system but said teachers should be able to start scheduling their vaccine appointments through the Oregon Health Authority Wednesday, Jan. 27. Portland teachers were advised to utilize the Oregon Convention Center "mega distribution" site recently established by regional health care providers.
While a majority of roughly 1,200 PPS high school students surveyed by a student coalition said they prefer to return to in-person learning, Tuesday's announcement caught many teachers off guard.
Portland Association of Teachers, which represents PPS educators, put out a memo to its members Tuesday afternoon ahead of the school board meeting, saying the union had not seen the new reopening plans prior to the district-wide announcement.
"At this point, we have more questions than answers," the letter from PAT stated.
How will it work?
Phase 1: Feb. 8
• 19 schools will be open for limited in-person instruction for specific groups of students who may need extra educational support
Phase 2: Feb. 22
• 45 schools open for limited in-person instruction
Phase 3: March 1
• All PPS schools open for limited in-person instruction
April 8: All school sites reopen for optional hybrid instruction
This story has been updated to note PPS is still deciding how to offer hybrid instruction to high school students.
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