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The lastest guidance from Salem allows districts to decide when to provide in-person learning.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Tim Porter speaks at a Scappoose School Board meeting in 2019.School district administrators throughout Oregon are adjusting to news from Salem that individual districts will be allowed to determine when students can return to classroom learning.

Gov. Kate Brown made the announcement a couple of days before Christmas, noting in her letter, "It is my hope that more Oregon schools, especially elementary schools, will transition to in-person instruction by February 15, 2021."

It's an adjustment that Scappoose School District Superintendent Tim Porter will have to navigate, knowing that while cases of coronavirus have jumped dramatically in recent weeks, vaccines will eventually offer Oregonians protection from the virus, which has claimed more than 1,500 lives in the state.

"I thought the timing was interesting," Porter said. "It would have been nicer to have some time to be able to plan because all our administers and teachers, basically everybody is on break right now. That made it hard to do anything with the announcement."

Porter continued, "We are looking forward to getting kids back in school as soon as we can safely do so."

When students are allowed to return to classrooms, Porter expects younger students would be the first to arrive to school buildings.

"We would first bring back (kindergarten through the third grade), which is what the governor also announced in her letter," Porter said. "That's in line with what had previously been advocated for as well. If we were successful and didn't have any concerns in regards to any outbreaks, or anything like that, then we would proceed to bring back further grades."

A factor for districts to consider is that some instructors may be more vulnerable to COVID-19.

"I think all of our teachers are ready to have students back when it's safe to do so," Porter said. "The issue is some of our staff have underlying conditions that make them more susceptible to COVID, and/or they have family members that are living in their household, or they're caring for, that are more susceptible to COVID."

Porter emphasized that the teachers "want to teach."

"That's what teachers want to do," he added. "They want to be in front of their kids, teaching them and furthering their education. That's why they got into this."

It is hoped the availability of vaccines will ease the fear of a teacher contracting COVID-19.

"Once vaccinations are available for educators, I think it makes it easier," Porter said. "That still doesn't necessarily, though, protect their families from getting COVID. While I think it's definitely helpful, I don't think, at this point, it's a panacea. It's going to take more of the population receiving the vaccine to a point where those concerns will then be diminished."

More than 50,000 Oregonians have received the first dose of a vaccine against COVID-19, after two vaccines received emergency use authorization from federal regulators. That's a little over 1% of the state's population.

As Scappoose and other communities await better news from health authorities throughout Oregon, students continue to take their classes from home.

"I'm pleased with what our staff has done in regard to providing distance learning," Porter said. "I don't think that anybody would say that distance learning is a replacement for in-person learning. Pretty much everybody I talk to agrees that in-person learning is better than distance learning."

Of distance learning, Porter acknowledged, "While it doesn't work for everybody, it is the best option we have currently."

Students are adapting to the not-so-new normal in different ways.

"I think some students have adapted really well, and are doing well, and other students are struggling," Porter said. "I don't think that's any different, to be honest, than when you're face to face."

Porter, and other superintendents throughout the state, will be keeping a close eye on the coronavirus in the days and weeks to come.

An important date for Porter will be Jan. 19, when updated guidance will come from the Oregon Department of Education and the Oregon Health Authority.

"Obviously, we have to abide by whatever that guidance is," Porter said.

Porter praises teachers and staff for the way distance learning has been handled.

"The teachers have shown a great deal of flexibility and adaptability, to be honest," Porter said. "Nobody alive today, really, has ever experienced a pandemic like this — everybody has had to really adapt to what has come out with this. They've all done a great job."

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