Brown orders Oregon schools to remain closed through academic year

By TED TAYLOR
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS

Oregon K-12 schools will stay closed for the remainder of the academic school year, keeping nearly 625,000 students and teachers out of the classroom until at least this fall, Gov. Kate Brown announced Wednesday.

The governor made the announcement during a mid-day press conference saying it was the “best thing we can do for the health of our children and for the thousands of educators across the state.”

“It’s impossible to adhere to social distancing measures in our classrooms and in our schools,” she said.

Brown said deciding to close the schools now allows the state and districts to “invest time and resources in the delivery of learning and supporting our students through distance education and remote means.”

“I know this certainly is not what any of us were hoping for, but it is the best decision for our system,” she said.

Bend-La Pine and Redmond school districts were initially scheduled to end the school year on June 11th.

Brown was joined at the press conference by Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill, who said all high school seniors on track to graduate in March would receive passing grades. The ODE on Wednesday released Graduation Pathways 2020, the official guidance detailing how Oregon’s high school seniors can earn their final set of high school credits and graduate on-time.

“COVID-19 won’t knock Oregon’s students off their path to graduation,” Gill said. “This guidance assures our students’ hard-earned futures even during this global challenge.”

The key components of the program include:

  • Maintains Oregon’s rigorous credit requirements while providing a clear path to graduation for seniors who were on-track to graduate prior to the statewide school  closure.
  • Ensures that schools focus their resources to first support students who need to complete additional credits to graduate and then prepare all graduates for their next steps in life.
  • Suspends Essential Skills and Personalized Learning Requirements.

Seniors currently without passing grades will have until August 31st to graduate as part of the class of 2020.

“I refuse to punish students, many of whom have been in Oregon schools for over a decade, because they could not attend classes for a little over two months,” Brown said.

Oregon’s seven public universities and Oregon Health & Science University issued a statement in response to the guidance, saying “no student admitted to our institutions for fall 2020 will have their admission rescinded due to changes in grading policy or the inability to complete their coursework, as long as they graduate high school.”

Late Wednesday afternoon the Oregon School Activities Association issued a statement canceling all remaining Spring activities and state championships.

“Today’s heart-wrenching decision is difficult for all members of the OSAA family,” said Peter Weber, OSAA Executive Director.  “We empathize with students and school communities, especially our graduating seniors, but recognize that these cancellations will allow our collective focus to remain where it’s most needed at this time – on the health and safety of all Oregonians.”

Soon after the governor’s news conference, BLP Superintendent Shay Mikalson quickly sent a note to parents giving them the news, saying “every day seems to bring a new normal and those changes can be stressful for us all. Please remember this one unwavering fact: we are in this together, for as long as it takes.”

Mikalson said the district is working to “reimagine” experiences like prom, field trips, award ceremonies and graduation.

“We plan to invite our student leaders to join in planning efforts and look forward to sharing details for these experiences in the near future,” he said.

Across the U.S., at least 15 states including Washington and California have shuttered schools for the remainder of the academic year, impacting more than 55 million kids and three million teachers.

Officials in those states said keeping schools closed was essential to reducing the spread of the disease as health officials prepare to reach peak numbers in the coming weeks or months.

The CDC last month issued its “Considerations for School Closure” that concluded states needed to have a plan, but be flexible.

“While we have data that can contribute to decisions about when to dismiss schools, there is almost no available data on the right time to restart schools,” it says. “We would advise to plan for a length of time and then evaluate based on continued community spread.”

More than 1,100 Oregonians have tested positive for COVID-19 and 33 people have died. Health officials are still unsure when it will peak in Oregon, giving dates as early as late April all the way into June.

The status of Oregon’s school calendar has kept parents on their toes over the last 30 days.

On March 12th, Brown ordered schools closed for two weeks in the early stages of the outbreak’s reach into Oregon. On March 17th, Brown extended the closure until April 28th as President Trump laid out new social distancing guidelines for all Americans.

Oregon Department of Education officials in late March warned district officials and families of the “very strong possibility” students wouldn’t return until the fall.

Districts were given until April 13th to come up with an online education plan for students, but local districts were up and running with programs before then.

In Crook County, Facebook came through with two grants that made sure every student had a computer and access to wi-fi to get their work done.

Some teachers are meeting with students in Zoom classrooms. Others are providing short video lessons students could watch and follow along on their own time.

“Missing school is especially difficult on our students and their parents,” Brown said Wednesday. “To all the moms and dads, I can’t imagine what you’re up against balancing parenting during this very scary crisis.”

Gill said Wednesday that teachers and districts have been working on the fly transitioning to full online learning, but parents should expect to see everyone get more comfortable with the process.

“The next eight weeks of school you’re going to see improvement week after week after week,” he said.

Wednesday’s announcement doesn’t come as much of a surprise, with parents on social media saying teachers have been telling students privately they wouldn’t be returning to the classroom.

Restaurants remain closed for anything other than takeout or delivery.

Trailheads and recreation areas are closed across the state. Huge events like the Central Oregon Sportsmen’s show in February and the Sisters Rodeo in June have been canceled.

So the thought of sending children back to school anytime soon fleeted for many with Brown’s previous order closing schools through most of April.

This story is developing. Please check back for more details. 

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