The past week has been a whirlwind for Roseburg Public Schools Superintendent Jared Cordon.
“Parents are getting information at the same time I am,” he said, adding that it caused a bit of a communication gap. “Things are changing so rapidly and sometimes things are communicated, but information about how the implementation works has not been communicated. It has been a challenge.”
On March 12, Gov. Kate Brown ordered all schools to be closed until the end of the month and provide nutrition for children. Brown extended the school closure until April 28 on Tuesday, and also tasked schools with coming up with educational plans and providing child care for health care workers, first responders, and other individuals.
But little guidance as to how schools were supposed to provide those services, and others, was provided.
Cordon had a meeting with Director of Oregon Department of Education Colt Gill on Friday to try and get guidance on implementing things that Gov. Kate Brown included in her executive orders.
“To provide a path for our districts to deliver education and learning supports to Oregon’s kids during the closure, this agency will look under every rock to seek federal waivers and flexibility,” Gill said. “We will work with the state board of education to adjust rules and with Gov. Brown and the legislature on statutory changes. We will not and cannot waive any individual student’s rights. Every student in Oregon deserves equal and equitable access to their education.”
The Oregon Department of Education had a webinar with superintendents from school districts around the state on Wednesday morning to talk about the impacts of the extended closure.
The message was clear: focus on students with a pathway to graduation and then focus on kindergarten through eighth grade. High school graduation will be the emphasis for Oregon school districts, according to Gill.
Cordon said Roseburg High School started preparing for the possibility of an extended closure and audited its high school seniors on technology to make sure no students would be excluded.
Some distance learning is already taking place for those seniors.
“We are prioritizing support for our seniors on the path to graduation and also considering learning supports and materials for all other students,” Gill said. He added that the department is considering federal waivers for assessments.
Schools will be releasing distant education plans to students and families as more information is made available to them by the Oregon Department of Education.
Several Douglas County schools noted they were planning to start education after spring break, scheduled for March 23-27, and would release information to students and families in the next week.
A proposal has been submitted to the Oregon Health Authority to help meet the needs of high school seniors. A response is expected next week.
A total of 27 student contact days are lost, if school were to restart on April 28. The governor can extend or terminate the executive order at any time.
“There’s a good chance it could expand beyond April,” Cordon said.
Brown is expected to make adjustments to instructional time requirements. Gill said information on graduation, testing and instructional hours is expected later this month.
On the business side of school, there will be no disruption in school funding and all regular staff will continue to be paid.
Gill explained that most districts were operating as if it were an emergency closure, but the new order from the governor “triggers certain provisions about who they can ask to work and how staff are paid. This order provides districts the funds they need to operate under this pandemic and frees them to compensate staff to help with emergency services and supplementary learning support.”
What may change is the job, as staff members can be reassigned to work in different areas to help schools be part of a statewide response to COVID-19.
Schools will be required to continue to provide meals for students during the closure. Districts can use transportation funds to help deliver meals.
“Schools are a hub for communities in Oregon,” Gill said. “Day in and day out, our schools play an essential role in communities across Oregon. In a time like this, they provide needed emergency services as well.”
Certain school districts will be asked to provide child care for health care workers and first responders. Roseburg has been one of the designated districts.
Cordon said the order came without a real indication of what that would look like for the schools in terms of the number of child care spots that need to be made available and who qualifies for the care.
There is an infant and toddler care facility at Roseburg High School, classrooms for preschoolers at Eastwood, Green and Winchester Elementary Schools, and other facilities were used for hosting students before the closure and can be used to host students during the closure.
“We’re still asking for clarity, but plan as if we’re going to have kids here,” Cordon said. “But still waiting for guidance on that.”