The youngest students in Lake Oswego are likely to be the first in the Portland metro area to return to classrooms in response to the recent loosening of rules by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown.

Lake Oswego Superintendent Lora de la Cruz sent similar messages to teachers and families in the district, letting them know that students would start returning to school buildings as soon as Feb. 4, when kindergarteners are slated to return.

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“Here in LOSD, we have successfully offered limited in-person instruction at all ten of our schools,” de la Cruz said in her message, noting that the district has provided those classes “all without the transmission of Covid-19.”

State health officials have been tracking COVID-19 cases at schools, with its latest report finding 62 schools with recent cases of the virus, though in the vast majority of instances, there were only one or two cases, rather than an outbreak.

“We are optimistic that with safety at the center, we can begin a gradual and safe return,” de la Cruz said in her message to staff and families.

Lake Oswego rolled out a staggered plan, in which grade levels are added every few days through the month of February. After kindergarteners show up in a little less than a month, elementary grades will be added from youngest to oldest: first graders on Feb. 11, second graders on Feb. 16, third graders on Feb. 19, fourth graders on Feb. 22 and fifth graders on Feb. 25.

The district has said it’s planning what it calls an “AM/PM hybrid,” in which students will attend part of the time in-person and part of the time online. Middle and high school grades could be added in the near future, as well, the district said in its announcement.

The first presumed case of coronavirus in Oregon was diagnosed in an employee at Forest Hills Elementary in Lake Oswego.

The first presumed case of coronavirus in Oregon was diagnosed in an employee at Forest Hills Elementary in Lake Oswego.

Meerah Powell / OPB

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The suburban district is ahead of neighboring districts in Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties. But Lake Oswego’s start will come after thousands of students return to schools in southwest Washington, where school leaders in Evergreen and Vancouver districts recently announced plans to bring students back to school buildings later this month.

Lake Oswego’s plans also highlight how districts in the same county can reach very different decisions, after Gov. Brown granted more local decision-making power to individual school districts.

The North Clackamas School District — the largest district in Clackamas County — released a statement on its website Monday saying it would continue with online, rather than in-person, instruction for a while.

“As the county Health Metrics for Returning to In-Person Instruction currently stand Clackamas County is far from meeting the advisory metric to return students to in-person instruction,” said the NCSD statement. “Therefore, North Clackamas Schools will continue in Comprehensive Distance Learning for the foreseeable future.”

Lake Oswego’s far-larger neighbor to the north, Portland Public Schools, also doesn’t have imminent plans to open to in-person learning. PPS spokesperson Karen Werstein told OPB in an email last week “We need educators and school staff to have access to vaccinations before we re-open.”

State officials have said that vaccinations for people classified as Phase 1B, which includes teachers and school staff, won’t be available until late February.

At Lake Oswego, vaccinations for school staff is not considered a requirement for reopening.

“Educators are in the 1B group for receiving the Covid-19 vaccine,” superintendent de la Cruz wrote in her message this week.

“The exact timing is unknown, and will not factor into our transition to return to school.”

Oregon’s first confirmed COVID-19 case last year was a Lake Oswego School District employee.

This story may be updated.

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