The House and Senate education committees received updates during the interim legislative days last week on COVID-19 responses across the education spectrum.
Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill testified before the Senate Education Committee on Monday, Sept. 21.
“We are past our guidance writing phase,” Gill said, “and are moving into implementation.”
Gill presented the guidance, including the equity-centered guiding principles. He noted the department has received the required operational blueprints from 1,594 public and private schools and programs, approximately 95% of them. ODE is reaching out to the remaining 78 schools or programs and also working with some districts to get more information required by the guidance.
Gill detailed key shifts in the comprehensive distance learning from the end of in-person instruction in the spring to the beginning of school this fall. These shifts include increased daily learning time, an emphasis on daily staff-student and peer-to-peer interaction, and greatly enhanced infrastructural and technological capacities.
Gill noted that “every single school in Oregon is eligible to reopen for what’s called limited, in-person instruction,” small cohorts of students together for up to two hours per day.
He also underscored that schools in counties with low COVID-19 rates can open K-3 classrooms. Twenty counties currently qualify for that exception.
The committee also heard presentations from Early Learning Division Director Miriam Calderon and Higher Education Coordinating Committee Director Ben Cannon. Calderon presented the measures to provide healthy and safe child care options, including altered drop-off and pick-up procedures, daily health checks, and an increased emphasis on cleaning and disinfecting.
“All of these things we think have been working very well to keep child care safe and possible during this emergency,” Calderon said in the meeting.
Cannon detailed similar changes at post-secondary institutions, including institution-specific resumption plans, reduction of the number of students permitted to reside on campus, and changes in instruction practices. Cannon said remote instruction was most common.
Remote instruction is having a “profound” impact on institutions’ finances, Cannon said, with revenue lost from nontuition sources, such as parking, residence halls and nutrition programs. He said the expectation is that these impacts will continue to be “enormous” this fall.
Gill and Cannon gave similar presentations to the House Education Committee on Tuesday, Sept. 22. They were joined by Oregon Youth Authority Director Joe O’Leary, who detailed some of the challenges facing students in a juvenile justice education program. In July, in-person instruction resumed with detailed protocols to make sure any sickness was detected and contained.
“We just aren’t well equipped for distance learning,” he told committee members.