Oregon Department of Education is considering federal assessment waivers, director says
Wednesday, March 18, 2020
Gov. Kate Brown’s six-week school closure, announced Tuesday, leaves school districts in uncharted waters.
School leaders have been juggling immediate education needs while planning long-term operations amid a constantly changing dynamic. As the coronavirus pandemic unfolds, the Oregon Department of Education has been working with superintendents to keep them informed.
Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Colt Gill answered some pressing questions by email Wednesday.
Q. How and when will ODE offer more detailed guidance for what the extended school closure means for schools?
A. Guidance will continue to be added to the FAQ and sent to school districts as soon as possible. ODE is also holding regular calls with superintendents to understand the needs and walk through the guidance.
Q. What does this mean for requirements for graduation, testing, instructional hours and other state rules?
A. We are prioritizing support for our seniors on the path to graduation and also considering learning supports and materials for all other students. We are considering federal waivers for assessments, and the U.S. Department of Education has shared that it will provide expedited waiver processes (Thursday). We will review these options for flexibility as they become available. The State Board of Education will look at instructional hours requirements and adjust rules to conform to these extraordinary circumstances. We’ll be putting out more information on graduation, testing and instructional hours later this month.
Q. Will schools be asked to go later in the summer or will some things just have to be dropped?
A. Questions about end dates and completing lesson plans will be addressed later this month. As is always the case in Oregon, solutions may look a little different as each district works to meet the unique needs of the community it serves.
Q. Will ODE recommend against online learning or will it help districts set up online learning?
A. ODE has shared online learning guidance in the FAQ. The guidance includes both requirements and suggestions; it is not a recommendation against online learning. If a school decides to open online, it must be prepared to meet the needs of all students, the same as it does in its “brick and mortar” school. This means all students must have access to the learning, and it means individualized education plans for students with disabilities must be followed.
Q. What does this mean for school employment contracts in light of Gov. Kate Brown’s executive order on Tuesday saying employees have to be paid?
A. Districts will still need to work with their labor associations through their collective bargaining agreements. The governor’s order changes the provisions of the closure. Most districts were operating in an emergency closure, like they would for a snow day or broken plumbing in a building. This triggers certain provisions about who they can ask to work and how staff are paid. This order provides districts the funds they need to operate under this pandemic and frees them to compensate staff to help with emergency services and supplementary learning support.
Q. What message do you have for school leaders in these unprecedented times?
A. Schools are a hub for communities in Oregon. Day in and day out, our schools play an essential role in communities across Oregon. In a time like this, they provide needed emergency services as well. Our school leaders have been a voice of calm in an evolving challenge. I thank them for their efforts to continue serving students, families, staff and community during this unprecedented time. We are your full partners in this effort to minimize the impact on our students, parents and educators.