Portland Public Schools: January 5 Community Update1/5/2021
Dear PPS Families and Staff,
We want to wish you a warm welcome to 2021 after what was a very challenging 2020 and an unprecedented start to the school year. Thank you for all of your collective support and resilience as we’ve come together as a community to face the COVID-19 pandemic.
As lifelong educators at Portland Public Schools, we understand there is no fully effective substitute for in-person education. As one of the region’s largest employers, we also recognize the fundamental importance of prioritizing the health and safety of our employees, as well as the health and safety of students and their families, during this pandemic.
In collaboration and consultation with Governor Kate Brown, Multnomah County, the Oregon Department of Education, and other larger peer districts in the state, PPS has worked closely with public health officials, including those on our own health advisory panel, to inform our planning. Despite our community’s efforts, current COVID-19 infection rates and cases in Multnomah County remain alarmingly high and are expected to increase with a post-holidays spike that could last through February. This trajectory needs to change. We are among many advocating that vaccines be distributed and made available as quickly as possible.
On December 23, Governor Brown provided new guidance to relax statewide, mandatory restrictions for in-person school openings. PPS senior leadership immediately reviewed Governor Brown’s latest instructions and considered the implications of these changes. This week a group of educational leaders from across the state, including Superintendent Guerrero, met with the Governor and her team to discuss these newly announced changes as well as remaining barriers to resolve before considering more fully re-opening schools.
PPS, along with other Oregon school districts, will be recommending changes to ODE’s Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidelines, in order to simplify implementation of limited in-person instruction models that will enable us to return students back to school safely. We are prepared because, internally, a number of district re-entry planning, instructional, health and safety, and other teams have actively engaged in scenario planning since last spring.
As we continue to plan potential re-entry models, for when conditions will safely permit a return to in-person instruction, we remain in active conversations with our labor partners to expand more limited in-person opportunities for students in the short term. This is in addition to the essential child care, athletics, and other limited programming that we currently offer at our schools.
The prospect of opening schools is a complex one, and several key variables in making any decisions to bring students on campus during this pandemic remain. To re-open schools, we urgently need comprehensive practical support from the State. This includes:
- clarity regarding vaccine access for school staff,
- frequent and free COVID-19 testing for students and staff,
- clarity and consistency on changes to safety guidelines from ODE, and
- resources for additional staff and staff time to meet those guidelines and prevent transmission in schools.
We also know that whenever we are able to return to in-person instruction, we will need to continue to provide enhanced academic and social emotional supports for many of our students. We are already planning for expanded summer school programming options to build back instructional time for our students. We continue to partner with culturally specific community organizations, who provide crucial services and programming throughout the school year, including and especially to our students and families of color who have been disproportionately affected by this crisis.
We want to acknowledge and appreciate all of the dedicated staff who continue to deliver essential services and learning support for our students. Thank you to our custodians, nutrition workers, bus drivers, educators, support staff, administrators and community partners. We also want to acknowledge the generosity of our community who donated to The Fund for PPS and contributed nearly $1,000,000 to support urgently needed COVID relief resources to PPS families, most notably by providing grocery vouchers to help tackle food insecurity, with an extra push to get these resources to families during the holiday season.
We will provide a comprehensive update for staff and families by the close of the first semester regarding the third quarter of the school year (which begins on February 1). The Department of Education intends to release updated guidelines for schools on January 19.
In the meantime, we will continue to provide students with the strongest distance learning we can offer. We will also continue to prioritize social and emotional supports for our students, as well as addressing basic needs in our community.
Thank you for your continued patience and understanding as we all navigate these complex and difficult times.