PORTLAND, Ore. — Earlier this week, Portland Public Schools announced plans to begin limited in-person instruction for some students.
A number of KGW viewers had questions regarding safety concerns.
Elizabeth Thiel, president of the Portland Association of Teachers, said the union and district had come up with an agreement on safety conditions for limited in-person instruction right before the district’s plans were announced.
Portland Public Schools (PPS) hopes to start some limited in-person instruction around Jan. 25.
Officials haven't said which schools would be involved, but that 16 elementary schools would be included, many of which already have childcare on-site.
Shawn Bird, chief of schools for PPS, also said comprehensive support for improvement (CSI) schools as well as two high schools would also be included. CSI schools are those with the most need.
The focus will be on younger kids, those who didn't do well in the first quarter and credit recovery for older students.
“It's up to two hours a day. But it's not necessarily every day for a student,” said Thiel.
She said the union has been in conversations with the district for several months about safety
On Tuesday night, they came to an agreement. It was the same night the district announced its plans.
“It all happened very fast,” said Thiel.
“It's going to be voluntary on the part of educators and students. It's only people who feel safe going back to work,” she said.
Thiel said a survey from a couple weeks ago found that the majority of teachers in Portland do not feel safe going back to the classroom.
“It was only about 10% of our members said they would feel safe going back to work,” Thiel said.
For those who do feel safe, the agreement outlines other safety conditions as well.
For instance, even if a room can fit 20 students, teachers can make the call to divide the group with the help of administrators.
They can also change their mind altogether.
“Educators have the ability to say, ‘this isn't meeting the safety expectations I need,'” said Thiel.
The district has said it's removing furniture to allow for social distancing in classrooms and planning other safety measures, but there are still unknowns.
“At this point, all we've done is agreed on the safety terms and everything else […] we haven't seen any details past that,” Thiel said.
“There hasn’t been enough details for families even to know what the options might be or who might be able to access them.”
Thiel wanted to emphasize this is not a full-on reopening. Limited in-person instruction will only be offered to some kids at this point, the ones who need the most help.
“ODE [Oregon Department of Education] guidelines say it can be for social emotional support reasons, so not necessarily just academic but well-being, allowing kids to be together with an adult and getting support,” said Thiel.
She said limited in-person instruction is not replacing distance learning. It will be done in addition to distance learning.
Thiel also said with the vaccine distribution to teachers on the horizon, people need to stay vigilant. She said right now it’s important that everyone continue to follow health guidelines, like social distancing.