PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Just before Christmas, Gov. Kate Brown changed the school metrics used to determine if schools can open to ‘advisory’ rather than ‘mandatory’. That means decisions to resume in-person instruction will be made locally, district by district, school by school.

KOIN 6 News contacted the governor’s office to find out what led her to this decision, and they said they based it on science and data about controlling the spread of COVID-19 in schools.

Oregon is devoting additional state and federal resources toward testing, contact tracing and prioritizing vaccinating educators and school staff to help reopen schools. Both the Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Department of Education are reviewing safety guidelines and school metrics.

There are 2 key dates to keep in mind: January 19 and February 15.

By January 19, ODE and OHA will notify school districts about their thoughts on making reopening decisions. Over the next few weeks, the focus is to drive down infection rates across the state.

February 15 is the date Gov. Brown set as a goal for returning more students to the classroom, with a focus on getting elementary students back first.

But even when some districts reopen it won’t be business as usual. There will be social distancing guidelines in place.

PPS not yet ready to reopen

Portland Public Schools sent a letter to families and staff to let them know there are ongoing discussions about when and how to bring kids back to class, but nothing has been decided.

“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,” district officials said in the letter posted on their website.

They noted the COVID metrics 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” before students can return.

“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.”

Lake Oswego elementary students returning

The school district for Lake Oswego announced it’s bringing back elementary students to classrooms starting next month.

In-person instruction for elementary students will be gradual, according to a letter from Lake Oswego School District superintendent Dr. Lora de la Cruz, starting with kindergartners on Feb. 4. Then Grades 1 through 5 will resume classes on staggered dates — February 11, 16, 19, 23 and 25, respectively.

“We anticipate returning our middle and high schools to in-person instruction after elementary schools. We will have more details on those specific dates soon. Those in LO Online will remain remote for the school year,” said Lake Oswego Superintendent Dr. Lora de la Cruz in a letter to the district’s teachers.

Salem-Keizer resuming outdoor sports

Salem-Keizer School District officials told KOIN 6 News they’re excited about the opportunity to welcome students back. They’ve been working on a re-entry plan since September with an emphasis on COVID-19 protocols.

Salem-Keizer has been offering limited in-person instruction for students who need more help for a while. But this month they are resuming outdoor sports.

Their public schools will prioritze kindergarten-through-5th grade back to the classroom first — with safety as the forefront of their decisions.

That includes making sure staff, teachers and school supports are prepared and adhering to the new protocols.