WESTERN TREASURE VALLEY — With an extended closure put in place by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Tuesday night, Oregon students will not be returning to their classrooms until April 28.
Payette County schools and Weiser Schools are also out until the end of March, but there is also the threat that the closure is extended.
In the meantime, districts are now responsible to come up with a distance learning plan so that students can stay on track to graduate despite missing class time.
And Brown, along with multiple local educators, said that getting the class of 2020 to graduate this year is a priority.
“I know students have worked hard this school year, and we’re doing everything we can to help them safely finish their learning. But we’re also learning more about this disease every day, and social distancing is key to keeping Oregonians safe,” Brown said in a news release. “I understand there are seniors getting ready to graduate this spring, and I want to assure them that our universities and community colleges are working hard to make sure they can get their diplomas.”
All local schools (including those in Idaho) have spent the week putting plans together so they can continue to teach students from home. Those plans for every school in Oregon should be finished by the end of spring break.
And that plan can’t simply be online school. According to Marc Siegel of the Oregon Department of Education, simply moving to online classes creates an access and equity issue. Online schools would not be effective for the many students in Oregon who are in special education programs, who speak English as a second language, students who lack computers and students who lack internet access at home.
The planning process in Malheur County started with many districts surveying families to see who has access to internet from home and figuring out which students are in need of special care.
During an administrator meeting at Ontario School District on Tuesday, plans ranged from having online classes with the high-schoolers (who all have Chromebooks), bringing students into the school in small groups that are staggered throughout the day and using the buses to deliver school materials to the students.
“That’s the hardest part, is how to deliver an education to twenty-four hundred students at home,” Albisu said.
Ontario School District did hire a technology coach this school year, who has been able to get the teachers more up to speed on using technology as an education tool.
Also part of the plan is extending the lunch plans through the rest of the school closure.
When the scheduled scoring break is over, Nyssa School District will be switching gears on its meal program. Instead of delivering lunches via the buses, there will be multiple locations around Nyssa (which have yet to be determined) in which anyone 18 and under can come pick up a lunch.
“Please know that as a parent and community member, I share your concerns regarding the short-term and long-term impacts of this closure on our students, staff, and community,” Vale School District Alisha McBride wrote in a message to parents. “As a parent of four children attending Vale School District schools, ranging from elementary school through high school, I also know the anxiety that you are all feeling.”
Also part of Brown’s mandate was that all schools will continue to pay employees during the closure, which Ontario School District Superintendent Nicole Albisu said was important, not just for the families of the teachers, but the economy of every town in the state.
While many of Nyssa School District’s teachers will be working to provide online learning opportunities, reaching out to students via the phone, and making data packets, Nyssa Superintendent Darren Johnson said they will be having some classified personnel who are asked to provide childcare on a rotating basis for children of medical personnel or first responders who can’t take time off of work.
Not only are schools working to create a plan for school closures, they are tasked with creating a game plan for how to return to school on April 29.
Even when they are back in session, schools will be required to maintain a certain level of caution in order to makes sure the coronavirus is not spreading.
“I mean, what will lunches look like?” Albisu asked. “What will recess look like?”
Albisu threw out the idea that Ontario High School could utilize the use of the kitchen that is at the football field and have some students eat lunch in the bleachers, if they need to have more space for social distancing.
Another concern about coming back to school will be the potential of a staff shortage. When Brown called that all schools close, she cited that several school districts were contacting her saying that they were understaffed due to worries about the virus. That wasn’t necessarily the case in Malheur County.
“Ontario School District was doing OK,” Albisu said. “But we have a plan in place for that, regardless.”
In Idaho, school leaders have been meeting all week to discuss their plans. This includes having to apply for waivers with the State Department of Education and the United States Department of Agriculture to be able to provide meals in the time off. New Plymouth, Fruitland and Weiser school districts are all working on those waivers so they can provide meals to students after spring break.
Eder Campuzano of The Oregonian contributed reporting from Portland for this story, part of a collaboration between Oregon’s education reporters to help inform our readers about this evolving health issue.