PORTLAND, Oregon — The Tigard Tualatin School District announced Tuesday that 6,500 students are going back to distance learning. The district will temporarily close Tigard High School and Tualatin High School, along with Fowler, Hazelbrook and Twality middle schools. They join Durham Elementary which was already closed because of COVID.
Superintendent Sue Rieke-Smith said there simply were not enough people to fill all the positions needed to keep the schools running.
“This thing is incredibly fluid and much different than delta," Rieke-Smith said. "Delta was a slower rollout. And we could keep an eye on it. This one is just literally moment by moment."
Rieke-Smith said the daily battle to find enough healthy people to staff the schools is exhausting for everyone.
“Our day here starts about 4:30 in the morning," Rieke-Smith said. "We take a look at staff outages and sub requests. We then take a look at where we are with our students. I get another report around 8 a.m., one mid-day, one in the afternoon, and then in the evening we're taking a look at sub requests for the next day and 4:30 a.m., we start all over again."
Rieke-Smith said she hopes the switch to online is brief. Currently, the plan is to return to in-person learning on Monday, Jan. 24.
In the Hillsboro district, two large elementary schools, Indian Hills and Brookwood, will both go online, sending 779 students back home. Indian Hills plans to have students return on Jan. 18. Brookwood plans to bring back in-person learning Jan. 21.
Spokeswoman Beth Graser said the temporary closures are a last resort.
“It’s a number of factors," Graser said. "It’s can you field enough staff to hold school safely? Have there been enough potential exposures that the resources it would take to potentially put all of those people through a testing regimen to determine whether or not it's safe to hold school or not is realistic?"
Forest Grove High School is also moving to online classes until Jan. 21. The school website reported Tuesday that 18% of staff and 32% of students are already absent.
The Salem-Keizer School District, the second largest in Oregon, made the decision late Tuesday to close all schools for one day on Friday because of the pandemic. Assistant Superintendent Iton Udosenata said keeping classes meeting in person is a day-to-day decision but if 20% of the staff is out sick, it’s a problem.
“We don’t actually have a threshold because every site is different," Udosenata said. "Of course, that 20% would make things really difficult to keep buildings open and functioning the way we’d like to."