As Oregon schools reopen, some parents’ access to unemployment benefits could change

By Kate Davidson (OPB)
April 6, 2021 9:49 p.m. Updated: April 6, 2021 11:06 p.m.

So far in the pandemic, parents who can’t work because of school closures have had access to unemployment benefits. Going forward, that could get more complicated.

More Oregonians have been spotting school buses these days.

Gov. Kate Brown recently ordered public schools to resume full or partial in-person learning — by last week for elementary schools and by later this month for older students. That reopening of Oregon schools could affect some parents’ access to unemployment benefits.


The coronavirus pandemic upended the normal rules governing people’s eligibility for unemployment benefits. Under temporary rules from the Oregon Employment Department, workers have been eligible for benefits if they had to stay home to care for a child because of school closures.


Now, some schools have fully reopened. Others are adopting hybrid models. The prospect of partial school days has left some parents confused about their benefits.

The Employment Department sought to clarify the situation in a recent email. It outlined three basic scenarios.

If a child is in hybrid learning with any days of online instruction, that child’s school is still considered closed. Parents unable to work for this reason may still receive benefits — including regular unemployment and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).

Parents aren’t eligible for benefits, however, if they have the option to send kids to a fully open school but choose to stay online “out of an abundance of caution.” This ineligibility applies to regular benefits, PUA and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC).

Finally, parents can still get regular unemployment or PEUC in another situation: If their school only offers full in-person instruction, but a child or family member has a medical issue. It’s unclear how common this situation will be, however. Gov. Brown’s executive order requires public and private schools to continue offering a distance learning option for the rest of the school year.

There is currently a patchwork of hybrid and fully on-site learning models across the state. Portland Public Schools — the state’s largest school district — is implementing a hybrid model, like many metro-area districts. Meanwhile, the Klamath County and Bend-La Pine school districts are largely returning to daily in-person learning, with online options for families that choose to stay home.