There is a “very real potential” students will not return to school this school year, the Oregon Department of Education announced Monday night.

That was the latest information released by the department and included guidelines for districts on implementation of distance learning, a planning checklist, a sample flowchart and a timeline on distance learning for all. A meeting for all superintendent in the state is scheduled for 2 p.m. today to provide more information on Distance Learning for All.

Roseburg Public Schools Superintendent Jared Cordon said the district is right on track with the timeline, but there are still a lot of questions to be answered especially surrounding graduation.

Gov. Kate Brown issued an executive order that schools close from March 16 until April 28 amid the coronavirus pandemic. Brown can extend or terminate the order at any time. In fact, she has already extended the order once.

“We started with the idea that our children would miss a few days of school and that some days might be made up in the summer — something that is normal in Oregon, which regularly encounters snow days and forest fires that close schools for a few days each year,” Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill said.

Gill said supplemental education and learning supports were reasonable and essential for short-term closures; however, he said there is “the strong possibility that our students may not come back through our school house doors this academic year.”

Oregon Department of Education is now asking school districts to have Distance Learning for All plans ready to start by April 13. Distance learning is not just online learning, but can be a blend of learning strategies to best fit the community, the school or the student.

Douglas Education Service District Superintendent Michael Lasher said support to school districts will continue “as we navigate this rapidly evolving educational landscape.”

“Douglas County’s students are our top priority, and we know that local school districts are doing everything they can to guide families through these difficult times,” Lasher said. “This dedication will continue as we all work to implement the Distance Learning for All guidelines provided by the Oregon Department of Education.”

South Umpqua School District Superintendent Kate McLaughlin said there has been no official word on extending the closure, but the district has a backup plan in place in the event the closure is extended.

“Our greatest challenge, like many rural areas, is ensuring equitable access,” McLaughlin said. “Whether that be tech devices or internet access with adequate data. And of course, teacher training.”

The vast majority of Oregon educators have not taught online and some districts have varying levels of experience, capacity, and technology tools, according to the department of education.

McLaughlin said there are a few teachers with knowledge on distance learning and the district will tap into their knowledge, but the majority of teachers will need “a fair amount of training.”

“Of course, education without face-to-face interaction between students and teachers will look and feel different and cannot be fully replicated across a distance,” Gill said. “It will not and cannot happen overnight.”

There were 22,215 students last year who experienced homelessness and who will likely struggle in accessing distance learning.

“Our schoolhouse doors were open to every single student in our state, and as we shift to distance learning for all we must ensure our education services are accessible to every student in our state,” Gill said. “We will do all we can to meet the needs and strengths of students with disabilities, emerging bilingual students, talented and gifted students, and students navigating poverty and houselessness.”

Key elements of distance learning will be:

  • Every student regularly connects with their teacher(s).
  • Teachers and students prioritize time together to focus on the most important or relevant learning.
  • Teachers, families, and caregivers work as a team, anchored in partnership.
  • Teachers continue to monitor, report and record each student’s progress toward learning goals and standards, encouraging critical problem solving, collaboration, communication and creativity.
  • Schools provide multiple, flexible opportunities — for high school students in particular — to earn credit on their pathway to graduation.

Oregon recommends that kindergarten and first grade students get a maximum of 45 minutes of teacher-led instruction each day, while that increases to 60 minutes for second and third grade, 90 minutes for fourth and fifth grade, and 30 minutes per teachers for sixth through 12th grade — for no more than three hours per day. Oregon aligned its teacher-led learning recommendations with Kansas and Washington.

The guidelines that have been sent to school districts can be amended at any time as the department of education learns more about distance education.

Sanne Godfrey can be reached at sgodfrey@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4203. Follow her on Twitter @sannegodfrey.

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