Portland Public Schools will not offer in-person classes until at least February, Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero told school board members Tuesday night.
Guerrero suggested that COVID-19 remains too prevalent to allow anything other than online learning for the foreseeable future.
“The health metrics just aren’t trending in a way that would allow us to consider reopening schools at this time, even for hybrid or cohort learning, any time immediately,” Guerrero said.
Guerrero said online learning will continue through the second quarter, which ends Thursday, Jan. 28. The following day, Friday, Jan. 29, is a teacher planning day without students, so the earliest students could return to school buildings would be Monday, Feb. 1. In his announcement, Guerrero offered a “plea” to the community to follow “safe” steps to maintain public health, including wearing masks, to help the district return to in-person instruction as soon as possible.
In a message to community members sent Wednesday afternoon, district leaders repeated their hope that allowing students back will be possible early next year.
“[W]e are hopeful that our next announcement shortly after winter break will be different, as we would much prefer to be back in our school buildings,” the district said.
In its community message, PPS noted the official metrics needed for the district to resume in-person instruction in a “hybrid” model of part in-person, part online, including low test positivity rates in Multnomah County and statewide.
The PPS message mentioned the need to keep case counts below 10 per 100,000 residents in the county; that’s the state requirement to open schools to students in grades 4-12. The state offers a slightly less rigorous requirement of 30 positive cases per 100,000 to resume in-person instruction for K-3, but the PPS message didn’t mention that target. Those requirements are among the most stringent in the country.
Another metric for reopening, test positivity, was suspended for the month of September because wildfires had undermined the processing of COVID-19 tests. State officials said this week that test positivity is back on the books as a key metric.
Some districts are announcing similar steps to PPS, including Gresham-Barlow, which said Wednesday that its students will be learning online at least through the end of November.
At the same time, state officials have acknowledged they helped a high school in southern Oregon open to in-person instruction, even though its county health metrics didn’t appear to allow that step.
There’s one more sign that the reopening metrics are a moving target, and it could affect the ability of Portland Public Schools and other districts to return to in-person instruction: Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said this week that state officials are working on possible revisions to reopening guidelines.