Youngest Salem-Keizer students returning to the classroom

By Elizabeth Miller (OPB)
March 2, 2021 2 p.m.

Kindergarten and first grade students return to schools this week in Oregon’s second-largest district.

An adult wearing a mask stands in an empty classroom where tape on the floor marks off distances between student desks.

Salem-Keizer will welcome back elementary students into classrooms, beginning this week. In this classroom at Richmond Elementary, desks are socially distanced with tape to outline student spaces and boundaries.

Courtesy of Salem-Keizer School District

Beginning Tuesday, kindergarteners and first grade students in the Salem-Keizer School District will return to school five hours a day, two days a week.


It’s the largest school district in Oregon that has started hybrid learning — a combination of in-person instruction at school and distance learning at home. Both Portland Public Schools and Beaverton School District, Oregon’s other large districts, are planning to begin hybrid instruction for elementary students in April.

Salem-Keizer’s plan calls for organizing students into small groups, or cohorts, and having them either attend school in person Tuesdays and Thursdays, or on Wednesdays and Fridays. Mondays are a day for targeted student support and professional development for staff.

Students will attend school online on the days they are not in-person. According to the district, schools are expecting about 2,200 students in one group and 2,100 in the other.

Another 835 students in kindergarten and first grades will remain online only, through the district’s EDGE program.

Hybrid learning is set to begin for other elementary grades over the next two weeks, with all Salem-Keizer elementary students expected to be back in school by March 16.


For students in middle and high schools, the district said it will expand limited in-person instruction, but will also share a hybrid learning plan for secondary students “in the coming weeks.”

The district spent last week communicating with specific population groups in the district, explaining hybrid learning and the district’s safety protocols, and answering questions.

Masks will be required, and students will remain socially distanced. Students will be screened before they enter buildings, and they will be directed to wash their hands frequently.

Teachers reported to schools last week to begin preparing for the return of students, but the district said schools have been ready to welcome back students for weeks, sometimes months.

“Our school teams have been implementing our safety procedures already, as many students have safely been coming into our buildings for limited in-person instruction nearly every day since the fall,” said Supt. Christy Perry in a video for families.

Elementary schools will be on two different schedules because of transportation needs. Lessons will cover reading, math, and social-emotional learning throughout the day. There is also time allotted for recess and lunch, which students will eat in their classrooms.

As Kraig Sproles, the district’s assistant superintendent for elementary students, said in a recent board meeting, some of these students have never set foot in a school.

“It’s important for us as a district to realize these kindergarteners that are starting on Tuesday have never been kindergarteners in a face-to-face setting,” Sproles said.

“They’ve never come into our classrooms as kindergarteners, so it’s a really important time for them.”