PORTLAND, Ore. — Gov. Kate Brown announced Thursday that most of Oregon's elementary school students will be back in their classrooms at least part-time by the end of April.
Brown also said the number of students learning in-person throughout the state has doubled since Dec. 23, when she announced that schools and districts could decide locally whether to bring students back to the classrooms.
“Eight weeks ago, I directed the Oregon Department of Education and the Oregon Health Authority to put more schools on track to return students to in-person instruction, with a focus on our youngest learners," Brown said in a statement released Thursday morning. "Since then, thanks to the incredible work of our superintendents, school board members, educators, parents, and community members, Oregon has more than doubled the number of students learning in-person, to 116,749."
Late last month, Portland Public Schools (PPS) announced that by Feb. 22, the district hoped to have limited in-person instruction at 45 school sites. By April 1, PPS plans to offer a hybrid learning model for most of its students, at all of its schools, Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero said.
The Beaverton School District also announced last month that students would begin returning to school on Feb. 22, starting with limited in-person instruction for students most impacted by the pandemic. Pre-K through second graders will likely return for in-person hybrid instruction the week of April 5, with third through fifth graders returning in the following weeks.
Brown said Thursday that more school districts have announced limited returns to classrooms starting next month, including the Salem-Keizer School District.
"It has been almost a year since most Oregon students have set foot in a classroom, and they are suffering," Brown said. "The social, emotional, mental, physical, and academic impacts of distance learning on our students have been well-documented."
She said Oregon has since received $500 million in federal relief that will be used to implement new safety standards, provide personal protective equipment, and conduct rapid COVID-19 tests on-site.
Brown also put educators at the front of the line for vaccinations.
“The science is clear: with proper health and safety protocols in place, there is very little risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools," Brown said, citing the CDC road map for reopening school. "As districts implement the more than 160 health and safety protocols outlined in Oregon’s Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance, we can reopen our school buildings in a way that protects students, staff, and our communities."
Since she made the announcement in December, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths have decreased in the state. Brown said then that the metrics for reopening would be advisory and not mandatory; now she says Oregon's schools are meeting those metrics anyway.
"Our students only grow up once," Brown added. "We cannot let the school year end with the class of 2021 never having set foot in Oregon high schools. I know that some have had their doubts. But we can do this, by continuing to work together. It is within our power to provide every Oregon student the opportunity for in-person instruction this school year.”