Parents, teachers react to tentative back-to-school plans


PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Governor Brown said getting children back in school was a top priority during her Monday morning press conference on the coronavirus pandemic in Oregon. But what does that look like?

There are a lot of mixed feelings as teachers and parents try to balance safety and education. On Saturday, Portland Public Schools released a tentative plan of what fall term would look like in the state’s largest school district. It includes a hybrid model of virtual and in-person learning, but also stressed that will only happen if public health officials say it’s safe to do so.

Students in grades K-8 would be divided into two groups, with group A in school on Mondays and Tuesdays, and group B in school on Thursdays and Fridays, leaving Wednesday as a cleaning day. High schoolers would follow a similar model.

One parent of a third-grade student said virtual learning hasn’t been the best option for them, so they’re ready to try in-person learning again. Many others, however, still don’t feel safe.

“Personally, I think a hybrid approach is probably the best course of action,” said Brad Korpalski, whose kids go to Alameda Elementary. “I wouldn’t want to see full distant learning. I mean, it would be very difficult for us to manage that.”

Korpalski has one daughter who is about to start Kindergarten and another who is going into third grade. He said they did the best they could to create lesson plans at home, but it’s not something they can do full time.

“We didn’t want to put her in front of a screen for long stretches of time, nor did she really have the attention to do it,” said Korpalski.

As plans emerge for the fall, many teachers don’t feel safe going back just yet.

“There’s a lot of fear, and one educator told me it feels like being asked to play Russian roulette—probably won’t die, but you might, said Portland Association of Teachers President Elizabeth Thiel.

According to Theil, 40% of their members said that either they, themselves or someone they live with are in the high-risk group for COVID-19.

“Kids aren’t very good at social distancing when we imagine opening classrooms,” said Thiel. “Even at half capacity with maybe 15 in a classroom, there’s a lot of unanswered questions.”

Both Portland Public Schools and the Beaverton School District have proposed a hybrid model of virtual and in-person learning for the fall. Beaverton schools will also offer an option for students to enroll in an exclusively online curriculum.

Thiel said if this is going to work, they will need more federal funding.

“In order to open schools, for kids, we would need a huge influx of resources to be able to make sure that they’re safe or we’ll need to accept that it’s going to be much less in face-to-face time than what I think we all would like to see,” said Thiel.

All of this depends on what happens with COVID-19 cases in Oregon’s counties. Both districts said reopening schools will only happen if public health experts say it’s safe to do so.

Continuing Coverage: Coronavirus

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