Schools in Oregon will be closed for the remainder of the academic year due to the coronavirus, Gov. Kate Brown announced during a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
“The best thing we can do for the health of our children and 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,” Brown said. “School and learning will continue as best we can using remote learning.”
Roseburg Public Schools Superintendent Jared Cordon said the district had been looking forward to welcoming the students back at the end of April, but understood why the decision was made.
“This decision was made in an effort to prioritize the health and safety of our students, our staff, and our community,” Cordon said. “We are prioritizing conversations with our parents and students of the class of 2020 to discuss graduation. We have developed a plan to support all of our students and families with meals, technology, and ongoing learning opportunities throughout this closure. We will also be continuing to provide childcare for our health professionals and first responders.”
Although the announcement was made Wednesday, the Oregon Department of Education alluded to an extended closure last week.
“It has appeared for some time this day was coming, but it’s a difficult day all the same,” said Jim Green, executive director of the Oregon School Boards Association. “It’s sad to think of families unable to experience the graduation moment celebrating years of hard work by students. It’s sad to think of empty classrooms, further disruptions in learning and knowing that some students’ needs will be unmet. But these are unprecedented times, and we support the governor’s decision in the interest of protecting public health.”
Roseburg High School band teacher Branden Hansen said the most challenging aspect for him was losing the time he spends with students, especially seniors, every day.
“I love my kids. I love the routine of seeing them every day,” Hansen said. “I love the fun inside jokes we share in class as we make music together. I miss all of it. Bar none, the thing I miss most is seeing my kids daily and making music and memories together.”
Brown was joined at Wednesday’s press conference by Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill and Oregon Health Authority Chief Medical Officer Dana Hargunani.
Oregon Department of Education announced guidance for graduating seniors. Credit requirements for graduation have not changed, but courses will be pass/fail for the remainder of the school year.
“We realize this is not the situation our seniors hoped to find themselves as they neared the finish line of their K-12 education and prepared to take the next step in their lives,” a press release from Roseburg Public Schools said. “We share in their disappointment, but we are prepared to support them through this process and to ensure that their future is not impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Gill said it was not known whether graduation ceremonies or other social gatherings would be able to take place this year.
On Monday, schools throughout Oregon will start Distance Learning for All. Each school district will determine what the best way for distance learning is for their students and community, this can be online learning or packets of homework delivered to students.
“I really want to recognize too, that this model asks an awful lot of our families and caretakers of children at a difficult time in Oregon,” Gill said. “We know, and have to understand, that our families are also under stress. Some of them work in the health care system, some of them have family — extended or right in their homes — that are ill, some are struggling to get meals on the table because they’ve been laid off or furloughed, some are trying to work from home while also taking care of little ones. All really significant challenges.”
Gill asked for the grace and patience of Oregonians during these challenges.
Gill praised educators for their continued work throughout the extended school closure.
“Our educators continue to hold themselves to high standards,” he said. Brown also commented that she honors the creativity and public service from educators.
As a music teacher Hansen said there were some unique challenges to distance learning.
“Like choir or orchestra ensembles, band is a group activity and requires others to be successful,” Hansen said. “Ninety percent of what we do in class every day is create music, live, in a group setting and there is simply is no way to recreate that online. Regardless, we are creatively shifting our focus to other tasks that can be completed online.”
Hansen helped hand technology to students at Roseburg High School on Wednesday to make sure they could access websites and allow students to learn to play instruments or simulators to give the feeling of playing with a band.
“To be honest however, my main focus as a music educator is the emotional and social wellness of my students,” Hansen said. “Band for me has always been more about the students and the camaraderie created in that group dynamic than the music itself. My priority as an educator is to use music to create good people. With that, I am keeping my focus on caring for students’ human needs as much if not more than their musical needs.”
All schools in the United States are closed and Oregon is the 16th state to announce it will close for the remainder of the school year. Schools in Oregon closed their doors to students on March 16.
“I hope the plan to graduate our seniors, and our commitment to continued learning, removes some of the stress and uncertainty for our students and parents across the state,” Brown said.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Wednesday morning he expects schools to resume normal operations in the fall.
“I fully expect, though I’m humble enough to know that I can’t accurately predict, that by the time we get to the fall that we will have this under control enough that it certainly will not be the way it is now, where people are shutting schools,” he said. “My optimistic side tells me that we’ll be able to renew to a certain extent. But it’s going to be different, remember now, because this is not going to disappear.”
Some school districts might offer summer school or an early start to the next school year, but that will be decided on a district-by-district basis, according to Gill.
During Wednesday’s school board meeting, Cordon said the district is starting to look toward the next school year as well.
“We have to design a system next year to mitigate the learning loss,” he said.
Additionally, the district will also prepare to start distance learning in the fall in the event that the coronavirus continues.