PORTLAND, Ore. — Parents in Portland got a big update from Portland Public Schools (PPS) outlining the district's future plans for in-person learning.
The update highlights the district’s plans now into the months ahead.
"With this latest revision, we find ourselves in a very different position where the metric now would support an immediate expansion of in-person services for students, and that’s exactly what we’re gonna do," said Dr. Russell Brown in regards to the updated guidance from the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) released last week.
Brown is chief of systems performance for PPS. He along with other district leaders spoke during a school board meeting Tuesday night.
Happening this week
This week, teachers and staff are getting COVID-19 vaccines.
“We expect to complete vaccinations for this key group by the end of February,” said Guadalupe Guerrero, superintendent of Portland Public Schools.
Also this week, limited in-person instruction starts with Madison High School. Over the next week or two, Grant High School along with some elementary and middle schools will also begin limited in-person instruction.
In total, 19 schools in this first phase will roll out limited in-person instruction by Feb. 8.
Timelines for expanded limited in-person instruction and hybrid learning
By Feb. 22, the district hopes to have limited in-person instruction at 45 school sites. Then, phase three includes all school sites by Mar. 1.
“School administrators have been identifying the students that are eligible, and they’re reaching out to families individually, making sure that families understand this is optional and we want to make sure they feel safe,” said Dr. Shawn Bird, PPS chief of schools.
The majority of Portland students will stay with distance learning until they have the opportunity to potentially go to hybrid learning in the spring.
“On April 1, when fourth quarter begins, we’re working towards and planning to offer a hybrid learning model for most all of our students,” said Guerrero.
Hybrid learning would start with the district’s youngest students. Next week, the district plans to send families a form that will allow them to choose whether they’d like their child to stay with distance learning or go to a hybrid model once it becomes available.
Extracurricular activities and summer school
The district also had an update regarding extracurricular activities.
Portland Public Schools plans to expand athletics with a possible return to modified full practice and eventually competitions. It’s also adding outdoor opportunities for high school choir and band starting in February.
Then, for what’s normally known as summer school, the program will be more robust and more students will be able to take part.
“It’ll be an expanded summer offering because we know that students will need some more contact with teachers,” said Bird.
While the district released information regarding its plans for in-person instruction, there are still unanswered questions. For instance, it's still unclear how the district will implement hybrid learning for its high school students while adhering to existing ODE guidelines.
District leaders said there are still ongoing conversations around numerous aspects of rolling out in-person learning.
Concerns regarding aging buildings and air filtration systems addressed
Another issue that came up at the school board meeting was in relation to concerns about the age of PPS buildings and questions around the air filtration and circulation systems in the district’s older schools. KGW has heard community members bring up the same concerns.
“I’m concerned about the other buildings that are average age of about 80 years old in our portfolio,” said Michelle DePass, a PPS board member.
“How can we be confident that the air filtration systems are working, the HVAC systems are working and comprehensive in every building?” DePass asked.
Dan Jung, the district’s chief operation officer, addressed the issue in the meeting.
“We’re bringing in more outside air. We’re running our systems longer throughout the day, so roughly four hours longer, and running it continuously throughout the day,” said Jung.
During the board meeting, Bird mentioned the district had ordered roughly 400 air purifiers. Jung said the district has also been working closely with outside safety and air quality experts.