Students cannot enter school buildings for the remainder of the academic year and lessons have shifted to mostly online learning. But in some remote areas of Douglas County, access to reliable internet isn’t always an option.
Days Creek School District Superintendent Steve Woods estimated about 20% of students enrolled in the school were without access to internet.
The school itself worked with Douglas Fast Net to get reliable service for students, which means teachers are able to get lessons to students.
“The problems we’ve encountered go to where families live. And in that case, there are some that do not have any access to the internet or spotty access,” Woods said. “Some have multiple kids, and it eats away at the bandwidth.”
It’s a problem not unique to Days Creek, but something most districts in Douglas County are facing.
“We kinda saw the writing on the wall before we saw a mandate from the state,” Elkton Elementary School Dean of Students Amy Rose said.
Schools in Glendale connected to the internet two years ago, but several of the students are still without access, especially those in more remote areas.
“I want to be clear that distance learning is not synonymous with online learning,” said Colt Gill, executive director of the Oregon Department of Education, during a press conference during which Gov. Kate Brown announced the extension of the school closure through the end of the school year. “Although it is online learning in some cases.”
Schools were instructed by the Oregon Department of Education to start a “Distance Learning for All” plan, which would be designed by each school district to best fit the needs of the community.
For many, this included a combination of online learning, teleconferencing and completing assignments that do not require access to technology.
Most school districts have been able to lend technology to students.
In Elkton — a school district with approximately 234 students — the district sent out 125 Chromebooks and laptops to students.
“Some families may have five kids and one desktop,” Rose said. “Each kid really ideally needs their own device.”
North Douglas School District Superintendent Terry Bennett ordered hot spots to provide internet access to about 20 students in the district which has about 350 students.
Those hot spots were on back order due to the increased demand. Bennett said he hoped to shift the blended learning more toward online learning, once those hot spots came in.
Some Days Creek teachers have been recording lessons and have put them on USB flash drives. Woods said the district is considering burning those lessons onto DVDs for families who do not have the ability to play the messages from the USB flash drives.
In Elkton, district staff went one step further and has been sending all educational materials, including Chromebooks, to students via the mail.
“(Superintendent) Andy Boe wanted to be really careful about putting staff out at risk for exposure,” Rose said.
Each teacher in Elkton was provided with an iPhone that doubles as a hot spot, so they can contact students and ensure kids are connecting with their teachers.
“For some of our students the internet is spotty and they can hear us, but they can’t load their own audio or video,” Rose said, adding that students are instead using the chat feature to interact with teachers.
But even with all that technology, some students are using paper packets to complete the work — which all school districts are making available to students.
“Some families chose to not do anything online,” Rose said. “There is a spectrum of opinions about kids being on the internet, making sure kids are safe. Parents who don’t want temptation. We respect every family’s needs. And the packet form helps with that”
At most school districts those packets are distributed alongside the lunches, or able to be picked up at a school site.
In Glendale, students can return the packets to the school or bus but for safety reasons, they will stay in that place for a week to diminish the chance of spreading a virus.
And while some families may choose not to teach using the internet from a personal choice, for others it’s a financial choice.
Douglas Fast Net launched a program called DFN Cares, specifically for remote education, that provides two months of free internet service and Wi-Fi to students who do not currently have access.
“We’ve seen an uptick for needs of students,” said Todd Way, chief executive officer at Douglas Fast Net. “Once we realized that it was going to be an extended (school closure), that’s it wasn’t going to be one or two weeks, we needed to step up.”
Way said as of Monday, the company had received 70 orders to get students connected to the internet.
While schools are continuing to try and connect each student to educational materials, they are more concerned about connecting students to their teachers.
“Teachers call students each week,” Hanson said, adding that teachers have a phone log where they keep track who they’ve talked with.
Hanson said Monday there had been some students who could not be reached, something he thinks may have to do with families moving away following the closure of the Swanson mill.
Swanson lays off 300 in Glendale
Rose said, “For right now, things are going pretty well. We’re asking teachers to check in with students who didn’t go to online class each day.”