Two of Oregon’s largest school districts are on track to reopen to in-person instruction by April.
Portland Public Schools Supt. Guadalupe Guerrero laid out several steps at Tuesday’s school board meeting starting with vaccinations for school staff, which were scheduled to begin Wednesday.
Limited in-person learning will occur at schools in March. By April, Guerrero said, nearly all students should be on-campus part of the time.
“I’m eager to get as many of our students safely back in-person and into instruction, as quickly as possible,” Guerrero said. “But of course, we’re guided by our principles of living into our commitment for racial equity and social justice, which means centering and lifting up the lived experiences of our Black, Native and students of color, whose families we know have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and the pervasive inequities in our systems.”
The Beaverton School District announced a similar date for the return to some in-person instruction, but it’s starting with a subset of students. By April 5, the district’s youngest students will head back into school buildings, part of the time. The plan starts with pre-kindergarten through 2nd grade, and after a “smooth transition,” will work to bring back other elementary students.
In a hybrid model, Beaverton’s elementary students will receive two hours and 15 minutes of live instruction, in-person, with the rest of the day spent in extra-curricular classes or in asynchronous, or not live, learning, according to a hybrid explainer video shared by the district.
Elementary families must make their choice to remain in comprehensive distance-learning or move to hybrid by Feb. 15.
Wednesday’s message does not give a timeline for middle and high school students returning to in-person instruction in Beaverton.
“We’ll continue to evaluate the feasibility of bringing secondary students back in a Hybrid Instruction model and will communicate a start date when we’re able,” said BSD Superintendent Don Grotting in the release.
Limited in-person instruction is set to begin Feb. 22 at 29 schools in the district.
That’s the same day West Linn-Wilsonville, another larger school district on the edge of Portland, is planning to begin in-person learning, starting with kindergarten students. That district’s timeline for reopening shows a gradual return for students weekly after Feb. 22, with all students back for in-person learning by March 15.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has been pushing for schools to open. Brown has spurred controversy by changing vaccination priorities so that teachers would be at the head of the line and ahead of seniors living on their own. She has repeatedly changed guidelines for schools — including making state guidance advisory, rather than mandatory, last month.
Some parents and teachers are skeptical that schools can reopen safely. More aggressive reopening plans in other districts — including Lake Oswego and Redmond — recently had to be postponed, with COVID-19 case numbers remaining high.
At the same time, many parents have been advocating for schools to open quickly, noting that students learn better inside classrooms and that children’s mental health is taking a toll through the prolonged periods of isolation.