PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland schools are continuing to prepare families for a possible return to distance learning.

According to a tweet from Portland Public Schools, all students from grades 3-12 have been issued PPS Chromebooks in order to prep for a potential reinstatement of temporary virtual instruction. This comes as schools across the region attempt to grapple with numerous student and staff absences due to the current surge of COVID-19 cases.

Last week, more than 17,000 Portland metro students were going remote as staffing shortages forced district officials to implement measures that hadn’t been truly considered before the omicron variant began to run wild through the population.

Over the weekend, 36 school nurses sent a signed letter to the school district claiming schools are closing because of a surge in COVID-19 cases — not because of staffing shortages — and said the current mitigation efforts are not adequate.

The letter states the district is blaming the closures on teachers who call out sick, rather than supporting the teachers and staff that are sick and having to quarantine. The nurses also said there are not enough nurses or safety measures in the schools to alleviate the number of cases.

“There are so many exposures and cases in PPS schools that, despite our best efforts, the district’s COVID-19 tracking data is woefully behind,” said the nurses.

The nurses said the information that PPS leaders are using for decision-making is out of date and inaccurate.

“Messaging that schools are safe — without taking the steps to make them safe — does not keep children safe,” PPS nurses said in part.

They are also dealing, at times, with expired test kits, said Mary Johnson, the nurse at Lincoln High School.

“Currently we are overwhelmed in our duties in our COVID response. Tracking data is behind and the reality is the hallways are crowded, the windows are closed on these cold winter days,” Johnson said.

In a statement posted to their website, PPS says they continue to rely on public health experts to inform their decisions related to limiting the spread of COVID-19. They listed various measures schools are taking, including providing masks, providing access to vaccines and tests, along with replacing air filters in each school.

As of last Tuesday, PPS said they had almost 400 teachers out sick and could not find enough substitutes to fill even half those positions. About 25% of students were also out of the classroom.

Portland is not the only school district experiencing these challenges.

Schools all around the area are seeing similar staffing issues and student absences. Officials with Salem-Keizer Public Schools — the second-largest district in Oregon — recently told KOIN 6 News their staffing shortage had reached a crisis level.

Meanwhile up in Southwest Washington, some schools have already moved to remote learning for several weeks. Last week, the Vancouver School District announced some of their schools would include remote learning 4 days a week for 3 weeks.