Oregon schools will be closed until at least April 28
Oregon students will be out of school until at least April 28 while educators scramble to keep the spark of learning going.
On Tuesday, Gov. Kate Brown extended the two-week school closure an additional four weeks.
The executive order came one day after Brown banned all public gatherings larger than 25 people through April 14.
“We must act now to flatten the curve and slow the rate of COVID-19 transmission in Oregon, otherwise we face a higher strain on our medical system and greater loss of life to this disease,” Brown said in a news release.
The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has not presented a high risk for young people, but they can transmit the disease. Late last week, Brown ordered schools closed after superintendents reported staff absences were making it difficult to keep schools running.
School leaders who had been devising supplemental learning plans for a short break are now looking at what they can do to increase education opportunities during a long closure.
School leaders are awaiting more information from the state on what the closure will mean for testing, instructional hours, graduation requirements, employee contracts and more. The new executive order directs districts to provide learning supports and supplemental services for students and families, such as meals and child care. School districts can call on all employees to deliver services and they must pay their employees during the closure, according to the order.
“This is a new reality for all of us, and we appreciate that the governor and her staff are acting quickly against a moving target,” said OSBA Executive Director Jim Green. “We’re going to get through this, but in the meantime, we’ve got dozens of questions to get sorted out and 581,000 students to take care of.”
Umatilla Superintendent Heidi Sipe said superintendents would meet by phone Wednesday, March 18, with Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Colt Gill.
The Oregon Department of Education will also continue to add to its FAQ, according to a spokesperson Tuesday night.
Umatilla will have a learning plan ready for kids by April 1, Sipe said.
Extended school closures have been announced around the country. All Kansas schools have been closed for the remainder of the school year. California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said their schools might not reopen before fall. At least a dozen states have announced closures running into April.
Coquille Superintendent Tim Sweeney said the superintendents he talked with had been hoping for a return to school April 1 but not really expecting it.
Sweeney said one of Coquille’s primary goals has been to make sure seniors will graduate.
Coquille’s closure planning has leaned on its experience with its online school, Winter Lakes High School.
The district is setting up a supplemental digital learning program to start April 1. Surplus Chromebooks, which were being replaced July 1, are available for students. Buses equipped with Wi-Fi hot spots will be parked in neighborhoods to make sure students have internet access.
“We’re going to think differently about education, and we’re going to make this work,” Sweeney said.
The buses will be carrying student meals as well.
Districts around the state have been working on supplemental learning plans and engagement activities for an extended closure, but quickly setting up true virtual classrooms appears daunting for many.
Some Oregon private schools have begun online school days, but they have fewer legal obligations than public schools.
Beyond issues of computer and internet access, public schools must meet equity standards and contend with union contracts.
As of Wednesday morning, the ODE guidance said, “Oregon does not have the statewide capacity, infrastructure or expertise to equitably move to online learning in the event of prolonged school closures.”
Regulations require that all students, including those who need differentiated instruction or one-on-one help, must have full access to learning, materials and educators. In short, online classes must offer everything a school does, including language options and talented and gifted options, as well as privacy protections and counseling services.
The Beaverton School District started planning more than two weeks ago to offer learning opportunities during a closure. When the state-mandated closure of schools began Monday, Beaverton had 10 days of at-home lessons and activities ready for students at all grade levels. With an extended closure, the district will be adding to it.
Beaverton’s remote learning tab offers low-tech and tech-based activities sorted by elementary, middle school, high school, special education and “daily choice boards.” It has links to apps and learning systems and considerations for students’ physical and mental wellness and English proficiency.
The page has had thousands of hits already, including from other states and countries, according to John Peplinski, instructional innovation administrator. He said the district is more than willing to share its work.
Beaverton has been working for years to increase its students’ connectivity, but some families still don’t have computer or internet access.
“We knew whatever we did wouldn’t be perfect,” Peplinski said. “We think this whole closure thing is going to widen the digital divide gap.”
- Jake Arnold, OSBA