Gov. Kate Brown has extended the closure of public schools in Oregon because of the coronavirus until late April, leaving educators and parents to scramble to help students at home.
The governor had initially ordered K-12 schools closed through March to contain the spread of the virus. Now, classes are canceled until April 28.
“I do not take the decision to extend school closures lightly,” Brown said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. “This will have real impacts on Oregon’s students, parents and educators.
“But 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.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, the Oregon Health Authority reported 75 cases of the coronavirus statewide and three deaths.
The Astoria School District’s board scheduled a special meeting for 1 p.m. on Thursday to discuss school closures, emergency preparedness and the academic calendar. It will be a virtual meeting where people will call in because of the virus.
“First of all, I think we’re all concerned about the health of our kids and our families and that should be our No. 1 priority,” Astoria School Superintendent Craig Hoppes said.
“But,” he added, “we have a very dedicated staff … they’re ready to provide an education for (the students) that will be of quality.”
Brown’s decision to extend the school closures does not come as a surprise to schools.
School administrators across Clatsop County had started to strategize about how to provide educational materials and instruction to students when the first closure was announced in case classrooms were shut down for even longer.
Now they need to solidify plans and clarify with the state how any activities or lessons they give students should be weighed.
On Thursday and Friday, Astoria school district staff will be reaching out to every family in the district to better understand their daily needs, Hoppes said.
The school district will also look at where online options will work, or where some families may prefer or only be able to access printed resources.
“Our directive is to provide supplemental education and learning supports to the greatest degree practicable,” said Sheila Roley, the superintendent of the Seaside School District.
School districts have a lot of latitude, she said.
Some schools are better poised than others to equip students with the technology — things like laptops or tablets — they would need for more complete distance learning. But there is still the question of how to reach students who may not have internet access or who have language or special needs barriers.
Seaside was able to send Google Chromebooks home with any student who needed a device for remote learning. The school district’s tech team is working to make sure every student has the ability to access the internet.
The district’s teachers will use Google Classroom for grades three through 12. Roley said they have a week or two of lessons ready to go. Teachers will have virtual office hours every day.
The remote model is still a work in progress, and she expects some hiccups along the way. But she hopes it will be robust enough to keep students on track and connected to teachers.
All schools plan to continue providing meals to students.
“That’s the provision that’s most clear to us,” said Tom Rogozinski, the superintendent of the Warrenton-Hammond School District.
Besides students, school districts are also looking at how to continue to keep staff working.
For some, their work may not easily translate from a school building to home. Some jobs may look a little different during the closure period, Hoppes said.
“This is an unprecedented time that will require us to be creative as we move forward,” Steve Phillips, the Jewell School District superintendent, and Jon Wood, the school principal, wrote in a statement.
Brown’s order only applies to K-12 schools, but it made Clatsop Community College reconsider a previous decision to remain open.
The college announced Wednesday afternoon that it plans to restrict access to the campus to employees only beginning Friday.
Classes will move online with the exception of nursing, allied health and emergency medical technician programs “as the state is eager to prepare health care graduates for the workforce as quickly as possible,” stated a letter sent to campus staff.
Patriot Hall’s fitness facilities and the college library will close Thursday night and will not reopen until the college resumes on-campus classes.
The Small Business Development Center will remain open but by appointment only.
Staff not working remotely will still work on campus.
The start of spring term is delayed until April 6.
“As we continue through this situation, our current decisions may have to be altered so we ask for your flexibility through this ever-changing scenario,” the letter stated.