PORTLAND, Ore. (Portland Tribune) — “Three feet is not enough. None of this is enough,” Kathryn Henderson told Portland School Board members and staff Tuesday, Sept. 1, teary-eyed while quarantined from her home. The sixth-grade teacher and parent was one of several who urged Portland Public Schools to tighten up its contact tracing and notification system for COVID-19 infections.
“It only took three days for my son to come home from school and bring COVID into my home,” Henderson added during a public comment period of Tuesday’s PPS board meeting. The school board meeting was the first since school started Sept. 1.
As the district scrambles to fill positions and keep up with case reporting, testing and contact tracing, it could soon reach a major pivot. The school board is slated to meet for a work session on whether to require vaccines of all eligible students. Before then, it will survey parents on the current vaccination status of all students 12 and older.
The idea has been supported by some students.
“I would like to ask PPS and its board to mandate vaccinations for all students 12 and up,” Jackson Weinberg, the student representative on the school board, said Tuesday. “It is our responsibility to ensure our schools are safe and our students and staff are healthy. I believe we can follow the Los Angeles Unified School District’s lead and take this step.”
Parents, teachers and students say the school year has gotten off to a rocky start. On top of a high number of COVID-19 cases in Oregon that left nearly 300 students quarantined by mid-September, school districts, including PPS, have faced a shortage of bus drivers and lack of available substitute teachers when a teacher contracts COVID and needs to isolate at home.
The district has deployed a COVID-19 dashboard to help families keep track of reported cases and exposures.
As of Sept. 14, 55 students were in quarantine after an on-site exposure at Roseway Heights Middle School in Northeast Portland. At Ida B. Wells-Barnett High School in Southwest Portland, seven students and four teachers were in quarantine due to off-site COVID-19 exposure.
Bus driver shortage
Two different people gave anecdotes Tuesday about students being dropped off at school, only to be left stranded due to a lack of bus drivers to bring them home.
“We are experiencing an ongoing and acute shortage of bus drivers that is causing some of our bus routes to be delayed or canceled for that day,” said Dan Jung, chief operating officer at PPS. “This challenge is not unique to Portland or Oregon.”
Jung said the district is trying to recruit new drivers, as well as custodial staff, to fill staffing gaps.