Students to Return to Schools, In-person Classes for Elementary Students

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Tigard and Tualatin students could be headed back to school later this month, at least in limited numbers, as school staff receive vaccinations for COVID-19. 

The Tigard-Tualatin School District announced in February that a hybrid model combining in-person instruction with continued online classes would begin Mar. 29 for kindergarten and first grade students. Grades 2 through 5 would transition to this model by Apr. 5, under current district plans. 

At the same time, a large majority of district parents have chosen to keep their children out of in-person instruction for the remainder of the school year. 

“Some families are saying they want to stay the course for consistency of schedule,” Assistant Superintendent Lisa McCall said at a Feb. 12 Tigard-Tualatin School Board meeting. “We’ve heard a lot of question about wanting to keep the same teacher, as well as concerns about student safety and whether it’s safe to go back during the pandemic.” 

Statewide, COVID-19 vaccination efforts are still ramping up, and educators have been placed near the top of the priority list by the state in an effort to get kids back in schools. 

Tigard-Tualatin and other metro area school districts are vaccinating teachers in four “waves.” The first wave began Feb. 1 with Pre-kindergarten through first grade teachers, custodians, front office staff, bus drivers and counselors. The second wave started a week later and included teachers in grades 2 through 5, additional counselors and support staff. Third wave staff started the third week of February and included middle school teachers, counselors and support staff, while the final wave started at the end of February and included high school teachers, substitute teachers, student teachers, support staff and counselors, sports coaches and district administrators. 

A successful return to in-person instruction will depend on vaccine supply availability, as well as a continued reduction in metro area COVID-19 case rates. 

“That vaccination schedule is driving our hard timelines,” said Amber Fields, Director of Secondary Education and College. “We just keep adjusting as that vaccination schedule continues to move.” 

The hybrid schedule model for elementary students will be comprised of half days with individual student cohorts. The Oregon Department of Education is currently allowing up to four cohorts, and no more than 100 in-person contacts for students attending classes. They will take math and reading in-person, with other courses remaining online. 

There are no set dates scheduled for middle and high school students to return to in-person instruction, but metro area districts are already providing limited in-person instruction, or LIPI. The aim of LIPI is to assist small groups of no more than 20 students at a time who have struggled with online courses. 

Middle and high school scheduling is particularly challenging, as students normally attend different subjects in different classrooms with separate teachers. A district task force is currently examining how to make this work. 

“I think there is a lot of discussion to be had,” said Fields. “Do we disrupt the CDL (comprehensive distance learning) model? Do we stay in CDL and then have other social and emotional in-person activities? It’s less about moving around the building because that’s just not possible.”

Superintendent Sue Rieke-Smith said the district has been working closely with the Beaverton and Hillsboro school districts to try and come up with a plan for middle and high school students. Beaverton, she said, expects to start “BSD Connect” on Apr. 19, a plan that would allow students to maintain online classes for basic instruction but attend school for specific group activities, such as sports, clubs or community service groups. 

The Beaverton School District also announced on Feb. 22 that it will allow some middle and high school students back to school on a hybrid, two-days-per-week schedule starting Apr. 19.