Students may no longer be in buildings, but that doesn’t mean that learning has stopped in Oregon — it has changed.

The Oregon Department of Education released guidelines on educating students from kindergarten through 12th grade amid the school closures due to the coronavirus pandemic. Colleges have worked to develop plans of their own to align with the state’s guidance on closures and social distancing as well.

On April 8, Gov. Kate Brown issued an executive order to extend the physical closure for K-12 and post-secondary education system until the end of the academic term and school year, while education would continue through distance learning.

“I know our students are extremely disappointed they are missing classes, prom and graduation ceremonies,” Brown said. “But the best thing we can do for the health of our children, and for the thousands of educators across the state, is to give everyone certainty by announcing the decision today to close in-person classes for the remainder of the school year. School, and learning, will continue as best as we can using remote means.”

Oregon Department of Education Executive Director Colt Gill has repeatedly said schools’ priorities, in order, are: connect with students and families, understand physical needs for food, shelter or clothing, strive to support their social-emotional and mental health needs and teach children to prepare them for a bright future.

“Nothing can replace the in-person schooling experience, and we should not expect that remote learning can replicate the traditional school day,” Gill said. “As Oregon educators, we hold ourselves to high standards and in this circumstance, we need to level set. We should extend ourselves and try harder than ever to connect with our students and families, but we need to give ourselves grace and understand that our delivery and support will look different. Our schoolhouse doors were open to every single student in our state, and as we implement Distance Learning for All I strongly believe we must strive to ensure our education services are accessible to every student in our state.”

As part of Distance Learning for All, students in kindergarten through 12th grade will only be able to receive pass or incomplete marks for the remainder of the school year. The U.S. Department of Education also granted the state a waiver for statewide assessments on March 20.

Here’s an overview of what Distance Learning for All means for different grade levels:

KINDERGARTEN THROUGH 8TH GRADEStudents and teachers in elementary and middle schools were the last to receive guidance from the state on April 22.

Educators were asked to make sure parents or caregivers were partners in educating the students, the material is within reach for each student, students have choice and flexibility on assignments, students understand the learning outcome and there is ongoing self-reflection.

Schools are also asked to make sure transitions for students into elementary school, into middle school or high school are addressed by the district.

While report cards don’t necessarily need to have a pass or incomplete at these lower levels, they will have a district equivalent of those marks. No letter grades or failing marks will be given to students during the closure, but all students will receive a report card at the end of the school year.

Students cannot be promoted or held back based on their performance during the school closure.

9TH THROUGH 11TH GRADEOn April 15, the Oregon Department of Education released guidance to support students in grades nine, 10 and 11.

Credit requirements for graduation remained unchanged. However, the Class of 2021 will no longer need to meet the Essential Skills and Personalized Learning requirements that were in place before the closure.

Students can earn a passing grade by participating in distance learning as identified by their school district and showing that they are learning additional material.

Career technical education teachers were asked to identify methods of instruction that would be available to students and the state recommended working together through a statewide network of CTE teachers.

HIGH SCHOOL SENIORSAt the same time students throughout the state heard they wouldn’t be returning to school, the department of education released Graduation Pathways 2020, a guide toward on-time graduation for high school seniors amid the pandemic.

“COVID-19 won’t knock Oregon’s students off their path to graduation,” Gill said. “This guidance assures our students’ hard-earned futures even during this global challenge.”

Credit requirements were kept the same at 24, but Essential Skills and Personalized Learning requirements were suspended.

Seniors who were on track to pass a course before the school closure received a passing grade and received credit. Those who were not passing will have until Aug. 31 to pass the course.

Schools have until April 30 to notify students who were not on track to graduate of a plan to get them enough credits to receive a high school diploma. This also applies to students who were taking credit recovery courses, or were fifth or sixth year seniors.

“I am really sad that we are missing so many things,” North Douglas High School senior Rhianna Nash said. “Even if we still have graduation it won’t feel the same. We won’t get to say goodbye on the last day of school or walk through the hallways one last time. These things are all a right of passage we have worked for 13 years, K-12th grade, and we won’t get to experience the things we watched our friends or siblings before us did.”

Students who were taking AP or dual credit courses have continued classes through online learning.

On April 27, Oregon’s colleges and universities released a joint statement that high school students who receive a pass instead of a letter grade in the spring of 2020 will not be negatively affected in the admission process at Oregon’s colleges and universities. The statement was signed by the Oregon Community College Association, which represents Oregon’s 17 community colleges, the Oregon Council of Presidents, which represents the eight public universities of Oregon, and the Oregon Alliance of Independent Colleges and Universities, representing 15 private nonprofit colleges and universities.

“Oregon’s public and private nonprofit colleges and universities are committed to working collectively as a community, and as individual institutions, to help you navigate this crisis, achieve your goals, and plan for your future,” the release read. “As you consider your next steps toward your college and career goals, please be assured of the following commitments we have made across all our institutions.”

COLLEGE STUDENTSColleges and universities stayed open past the initial school closure issued on March 12. By April 8, all learning institutions were included in the governor’s orders.

Umpqua Community College put together an Academic Continuity Plan Task Force on March 6 to start preparing a plan for continuing academic programs, courses and student services in the event the college would be forced to shut its doors.

The school held its winter term finals in person, while adhering to social distancing guidelines in place at the time and moved to online education for spring term. Spring term started a week later than originally planned to allow educators, students, administrators and college staff to make adjustments for online learning.

Umpqua Community College transitioned 223 classes to online courses and saw more than 3,500 people participating in classes and meetings through Zoom during the first week of spring term.

On April 21, the college announced that it plans to offer courses in summer and fall by remote delivery and online with the hope that career technical education can be done through limited face-to-face instruction. However, it urged students to “recognize that the situation is fluid and changes may come as the course of COVID-19 changes.”

The community college also canceled its commencement ceremony, which was scheduled to be held June 12.

Higher education institutions in Oregon received $126.7 million in direct funding, which would be distributed based on full-time enrollment with $40.7 million allocated for community colleges, $59.9 million to public universities and the remaining $26 million for private education.

Umpqua Community College is set to receive $1,121,853, according to information from the U.S. Department of Education sent out on April 9. Those funds were to be used equally for emergency student aid and expenses related to COVID-19. The amount each student will receive will differ based on a student’s enrollment status.

Oregon also received $32.5 million from the Emergency Education Relief Fund, which can be used for both K-12 and high education.

Students who receive financial aid or student loans have more access to emergency aid, will continue to receive work-study funds even when work has been canceled, and student loan payments are suspended through Sept. 30 without interest.

Students who feel the need to withdraw due to coronavirus-related barriers do not need to return federal student aid. Debt from a student loan will be canceled if a student withdraws due to a qualifying emergency.

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

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