Governor closes Oregon schools for rest of academic year
Oregon’s school doors will remain closed for the rest of the school year, Gov. Kate Brown announced Wednesday.
Also Wednesday, schools learned that Oregon’s graduation credit requirements, among the highest in the nation, are unchanged but seniors who are on track for graduation will receive diplomas and are done for the year.
The day’s norm-shattering news frees school districts to barrel forward with distance learning, clear that this will be how students advance this year.
During a news conference, Brown acknowledged the painful disappointment for students and the strain placed on parents.
“The best thing we can do for the health of our children and for thousands of educators across the state is to give everyone certainty by announcing today the decision to close in-person classes for the remainder of the school year,” the governor said.
She also announced the release of much-sought ODE guidance for senior graduation.
Schools will offer pass-incomplete grades for seniors’ coursework completed before March 13. The guidance said the state wants to honor the 12 years and 7 months of hard work most students have already put in.
“We want (seniors) to know one thing for sure and that is that we believe in them,” Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Colt Gill said at the news conference. “We know they can succeed.”
With most seniors in good shape now, schools can shift their attention to helping students who are falling short and supporting graduates’ post-secondary plans.
After food and mental health, educators and parents’ most pressing concern has been high school seniors. Districts have been asked to inform seniors and their families of their graduation status by April 30.
ODE worked closely with superintendents and education stakeholders, including OSBA, to develop Wednesday’s guidance.
“We firmly believe in local control, but in these unprecedented circumstances a statewide approach is both equitable and cuts through a lot of red tape,” said OSBA Executive Director Jim Green. “This step now gives students and schools needed certainty that those all-important diplomas have been earned and are being issued.”
Brown’s executive order 20-08 gave ODE the emergency authority to set rules for schools during the closure. ODE’s guidance does not require approval by the State Board of Education or local school boards, and districts cannot add graduation requirements this year.
Oregon's graduation requirement will remain 24 credits. The order suspends the essential skills and personalized learning plan elements.
ODE’s guidance emphasized that schools should keep equity at the forefront of their decisions, applying appropriate services and supports for students needing accommodations.
Schools are still working with students for advanced classes and dual-credit classes, as well as helping them gather transcripts and documents and prepare applications for next steps.
Grades will be under local control, but ODE urged districts to consider factors such as mental and emotional health, equity and access, differentiation, and the challenges of learning while at home.
For students who are credit shy, districts should provide a Free Appropriate Public Education, including language supports. Schools can offer credits for things such as online work, paper assignments, work samples, portfolios or demonstrations of proficiency.
ODE’s approach mirrors other states’ plans, and Oregon’s universities said in a news release that student admissions would not be hurt by the new graduation requirements.
School leaders can now turn to other considerations, although many of the academic hurdles have fallen.
Many U.S. colleges are not requiring ACT and SAT test scores this year, and the federal government has dropped Every Student Succeeds Act testing requirements. Advanced Placement exams for students earning college credits will be online this spring. International Baccalaureate exams for April and May have been canceled, and students will receive credit based on previous coursework.
Senior year is about a lot more than academics, though, with proms, sports seasons, arts performances, graduation ceremonies and just saying goodbye. School districts will try to preserve what they can and find new ways to mark achievements.
Springfield Superintendent Todd Hamilton said last month that the district would try to find venues for canceled events in the summer if public health recommendations allow it.
Coquille Superintendent Tim Sweeney said last week that the district still wants to make memories for students. He raised the possibility of some sort of graduation or prom outside or with just seniors this summer. He said they might even arrange a graduate parade downtown with everybody in cars if it came to that.
Lake Oswego senior Charlie Liu said last week by email that it is disheartening to consider all the things they are missing. For instance, his robotics team lost its opportunity to compete in the state and world championships after a long season of hard work.
Liu, however, found a bright side. The break in school has also allowed him time to relax and recover after a busy semester applying for colleges and scholarships while keeping up with schoolwork. He is also a Lake Oswego School Board student representative.
“I can be in charge of my own time to do things I am passionate about, which is an opportunity I won’t otherwise get,” he said.
With seniors addressed, ODE says it will soon be offering guidance for grades 9-11.
Sweeney said he’s not as worried about juniors because they are over the hump and the goal is in sight. Sophomores are his real concern.
“How do we keep sophomores engaged and moving forward?” he said. “Because here I am 15 years old. Mom’s gone to work, dad’s gone to work and I’m kind of left on my own and not feeling very motivated.”
- Jake Arnold, OSBA