Franklin High School is set to move to temporary distance learning for at least the week of Jan. 18 to Jan. 21, with Friday Jan. 14 set to serve as an asynchronous transition day. “The rapid rise in COVID-19 cases driven by Omicron has contributed to a rise in absences of students and staff at Franklin High School. We have reached the point where we will need to close campus for in-person learning starting 1/14/2022,” read a district message sent on Thursday afternoon. 

“We plan on using Friday as a day to allow our educators to plan to transition to temporary distance learning,” wrote PPS Regional Superintendent Margaret Calvert in a statement on the PPS website.

Distance learning classes will meet at their regularly-scheduled times, starting at 8:30 a.m. on Google Meet or Zoom. Some in-person extracurricular activities will continue to take place, according to Calvert’s statement, including performing arts and athletics. Breakfast and lunch will be offered at Franklin daily between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. 

As cited in Calvert’s message, attendance was potentially one of the key motivators in the district’s decision to move the school online. Data provided by Student Attendance Coach Daisy Jimenez-Antonio from Dashboard, which differs from Synergy, showed that 438 students out of 1,987 missed class on Jan. 12 at Franklin. 951 students have missed at least one class in the last five days. Franklin’s 5-day rolling average student attendance has been 72.13%, compared to a district average of 82.13%.

“Attendance has been dismal. I think I’ve had about two-thirds of my students [in class recently],” says Dr. Sahnzi Moyers, a Biology and AP Biology teacher at Franklin. “…I’ve also been getting emails from students and parents saying they’re not willing to come in anymore, because it doesn’t feel safe.”

Franklin also registered 23 absent teachers on Thursday, Jan. 13, and 22 on Wednesday, Jan. 12. Teacher shortages are likely one of the key metrics that instigated the district decision. “You know, one of the big driving factors, of course, is you need to be able to staff the building,” says Franklin Vice Principal Scott Burns.

Moyers, who has a doctorate in infectious disease ecology, says that she has been working hard to uphold protocol. She speaks to her concern about student COVID-19 exposure in hallways during passing periods and at lunch, as many students have been eating inside due to the cold weather, “It still feels really futile because I have been putting so much time and effort into keeping students in their assigned seats so that I can do accurate contact tracing, full well knowing that the second they go out into the hall they can very easily be exposed.” Student safety isn’t the only reason Moyers supports the decision.

“I think, honestly, it’s the right move in terms of equity,” says Moyers. As a high risk teacher with chronic lung disease she has concerns about “… the fact that we’ve been forcing some of our students to stay at home, because they might have disabilities or chronic illnesses or issues with their immune systems like myself, that felt really unfair to them.” This move to distance learning will allow for teachers to teach in just one place, instead of providing instruction to both students in person and those isolating at home. Hesitation still looms as students and staff worry about the repercussions of the return of distance learning.

“Our job now as administrators is to help transition students and staff to this temporary distance learning situation for at least the next week until the 21st,” says Burns. Unlike in the full 2020-21 year of online school, there are some pre-existing elements that will help make this adjustment smoother. One is the fact that there are already established student-teacher relationships, making communication in the world of Zoom more comfortable to navigate. In addition, students and staff have the knowledge of what does or doesn’t work for them in distance-learning.

Franklin isn’t the only school to announce its closure on Jan. 13, as it is joined by Harriet Tubman Middle School. These follow the closures of several high schools in the Portland area that have paused their in-person services, starting with Cleveland and McDaniel high schools on Jan. 7, according to the PPS website. This week, Roosevelt and Jefferson high schools became the third and fourth high schools in the district to close, with Ockley Green Middle School and Faubion PK-8 moving to temporary distance learning as well.

Oregon saw more than 8,000 cases of COVID-19 on Jan. 12, according to the New York Times, a nearly 500 percent rise in the last 14 days. Daily case numbers worldwide have risen as a result of the highly-contagious Omicron variant.

Students in need of a Chromebook or Wi-Fi hotspot can go to Franklin between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and pick them up from the foyer, according to the Franklin website.