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The Portland Association of Teachers reaches agreement with school district for hybrid teaching.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Students roam the halls of Grant High School in Portland during the first day back to school in 2019. Students are scheduled to head back to school for limited hours, starting April 1.Students in Oregon's largest school district are officially slated to return to classrooms for hybrid learning starting Thursday, April 1, after the Portland Public Schools Board of Education approved an agreement with its teachers union.

The back-to-school date was firmed up Thursday, March 18, with a vote from the school board. The board reached a tentative agreement earlier in the week with the Portland Association of Teachers that required ratification from union members.

How it will work:

Pre-kindergarten through first grade students in Portland Public Schools will head back first, starting in-person learning April 1.

The following week, on April 5, second through fifth grade students will return, with middle and high school students coming back April 19.

The district's youngest students in pre-K through fifth grades will be on campus four days a week, for two hours and 15 minutes a day.

Those in middle and high school will be on campus twice a week for two and a half hours a day.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - SCOTT BAILEY"We're driving an aircraft carrier, not a tugboat. We can't turn the ship on a dime." — Scott Bailey

The hybrid learning model will give students a mix of in-person and remote learning, with students broken into cohort groups. Each group will be assigned a morning or afternoon school session, but all middle and high school students will attend afternoon sessions.

"We're driving an aircraft carrier, not a tugboat," said Scott Bailey, vice chair of the school board. "We can't turn the ship on a dime. This plan is aligned to a point in time so that we can focus on opening schools as quickly as possible and not spend more weeks and months of planning."

School district administrators said under the approved plan, rapid COVID-19 testing will be available for all symptomatic staff and students. A health and safety team also will be on site. Buildings have been upgraded with HEPA filters.

"The plan you are voting on this evening is not perfect, but it is a meaningful and critical step forward for the district, for our educators and, most importantly, students," said Sharon Reese, PPS's chief human resources officer.

Students who don't want to return to campus can opt to remain in the distance learning model.PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Portland Association of Teachers President Elizabeth Thiel listens to Jason Lee Elementary Principal Alma Velazquez talk about the return to in-person learning.

Elizabeth Thiel, president of PAT, said the time away from the traditional education model has given everyone "time to plan and invest" for a better year come fall, but touched on longstanding inequities.

"We have no interest as educators in going back to normal in the fall, because Oregon public schools haven't been meeting our students' needs for decades," Thiel said. "This pandemic has demonstrated what a critical institution public schools are in our communities, and the central role that schools play in the social-emotional well-being of our students."

Not everyone was on board with the plan.

Director Amy Kohnstamm was the lone "no" vote. Kohnstamm took issue with the limited instruction time for middle and high school students, as well as the lack of flexibility to adjust physical distancing between students, should the state or federal government issue revised guidance. Kohnstamm said it's likely the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will recommend just three feet of space for physical distancing, allowing more student cohorts on campus.

"There's no defensible epidemiological or public health guidance that says that's what's necessary," Kohnstamm said of the current 6-foot spacing rules.

She suggested the school district go back to the negotiating table with the union, but other board directors warned that could further delay school reopening dates.

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