Public Statement on Health and Safety Protocols at Portland Public Schools1/18/2022
The recent surge in cases due to the Omicron variant, compounded by the unrelenting and continued stress from this pandemic, has impacted all of us as individuals and as a collective society. Every sector continues to face challenges, and Portland Public Schools (PPS) is no exception. We know firsthand that navigating this pandemic is taxing, especially for our students who desperately need and deserve consistency, stability and access to in-person learning experiences.
Yesterday afternoon, we received a letter signed by a group of Multnomah Education Service District (MESD) nurses, about one-third of whom are not assigned to a PPS school, calling into question the health and safety measures across PPS schools. We want to take this opportunity to remind our families, students, staff and the broader community about the health and safety protocols in place to protect students and staff and thank our school-based staff for their diligence and dedication to making our school environments safe:
- PPS continues to rely on public health experts to inform our health and safety decisions related to limiting the spread of COVID-19. This includes weekly advisory meetings and individual consultancy with health experts, including one of the signatories of this letter.
- PPS continues to create access to COVID-19 vaccinations for students, staff and families, including booster shots. We are grateful that 98% of our staff has been fully vaccinated, and we have a high vaccination rate in Multnomah County. Across Multnomah County, close to 85% of all students 12 to 17 and close to 50% of children ages 5 to 11 have received at least one dose of the vaccine. We continue to encourage everyone to get vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19.
- PPS partners with MESD to deploy school health professionals across our schools. This school year, our contract with MESD increased the number of registered nurses (RNs) and school health assistants (SHAs) by about 15%. We are also the only school district in Multnomah County that has contracted with MESD to employ SHAs in every one of our schools. MESD continues to hire and recruit to fully staff these positions across our school system and our region, and encourage interested individuals to apply online.
- PPS has installed more than 5,500 HEPA filters, including in all learning spaces and cafeterias--a more than $3.9 million investment. The portable air purifiers provide HEPA-level air filtration, which is capable of removing 99.97% of particles of 0.3 microns. This is the standard filtration used to capture virus aerosols.
- PPS upgraded existing air filters in each of our schools' mechanical systems to MERV 13 standards. This higher level of filtration provides another layer of protection to fight against COVID-19 transmission.
- PPS continues to implement the statewide requirement that all adults and students must wear a mask at all times, regardless of vaccination status. Today, PPS has close to 100,000 KN95 masks on hand, which we are providing to any school staff member who requests one. We’ve also had over 1 million age-appropriate masks for students. We are checking in with schools to ensure they know the processes on how to request deliveries of KN95s.
- In close partnership with the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), PPS offers regular COVID-19 testing opportunities for both students and staff:
- Symptomatic testing for students AND staff: This is for students and staff who are showing COVID-19 symptoms during the day on school premises.
- Weekly screening (asymptomatic) testing for students and staff: The weekly screening testing program provides early detection of COVID-19, even when students have no apparent COVID-19-like symptoms.
- COVID-19 testing site for staff: PPS established a COVID-19 testing site for staff and school-based partners three times a week for adults who have been recently exposed to COVID-19, are fully vaccinated and remain asymptomatic.
- PPS continues to rely on public health direction. For example, as a result of the national shortage of COVID-19 testing, OHA’s guidance makes it clear that school districts may temporarily use recently expired Abbott BinaxNOW test kits if individual test kit quality controls remain functional.
We continue to believe that we must keep as many schools open as possible, while reinforcing, adjusting and strengthening any and all safety measures possible--in real time. Data show that our schools are among the safest places for students - with layered and controlled health and safety strategies like universal masking, vaccination and boosters and regular COVID-19 testing. In recent weeks, in alignment with guidance from Multnomah County, the Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Department of Education, PPS has strengthened our mitigation efforts. You can read many of these changes here:
- Mask requirements for athletics and performing arts
- Quarantine guidelines for close contacts
- Contact tracing and notification requirements
As school district leaders, it is our responsibility to provide a healthy and safe environment for every student and staff member. We continue to follow public health guidance, adjusting standard operating procedures as needed, and communicating with staff and families quickly about changes as the situation continues to rapidly evolve. We deeply value our school-based colleagues and strive to develop solutions that unite us in a common goal of educating the young scholars of our city.
Chief of Staff
Portland Public Schools