Oregon students will not return to school this year but districts will continue to offer distance learning.
The decision came Wednesday during a press conference in which Gov. Kate Brown cited continuing public health concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus.
"We want to give you the ability to make plans for your children's education and for everyone's safety," she said in announcing the closure.
Schools have been closed since March 17 and were set to reopen on April 28.
The Oregon Department of Education ordered districts last week to prepare a distance learning program by April 13. On Wednesday, Director of the Oregon Department of Education and Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Colt Gill said that distance learning did not necessarily mean online learning.
"It's going to look different around the state," he said, noting poor internet access in some parts of the state.
Seniors, Brown said, will still be able to graduate if they were on track to pass their classes before the statewide school closure. All students who were on track will receive a passing grade and, under Brown's order, cannot be penalized by public Oregon universities for changes to their education during the closure.
Students who were not on track to graduate will be subject to local guidelines. Brown and Gill asked local districts to work with those students to find "creative ways" to allow them a path to graduation. Those measures can be taken up through Aug. 31 and students who complete those local requirements by that time will still be considered a part of the class of 2020.
"Missing school is especially difficult on our students and their parents. To all the moms and dads, I can't imagine what you're up against balancing parenting during this scary crisis," Brown said. "This is really hard on parents, too. To that end, I can't imagine it's a surprise to anyone we've been struggling with how best or provide educational guidance during these extraordinary times."
Citing a patchwork of distance learning and the stress on parents, Gill said, "We've really been trying to make decisions as we understand conditions on the ground in our battle against COVID-19 and we all need to have a little grace and understanding."
Summer school, Gill said, will be a district by district decision. Celebrations like prom and graduation will be dependent on social distancing and it was unclear as of Wednesday if those cancellations were included in Gov. Brown's new order.
Corvallis School District released a statement Wednesday that said staff was working to develop plans to celebrate the class of 2020.
Greater Albany Public Schools Superintendent Melissa Goff weighed in on the Governor's decision, saying, "We are pleased to know the path that will enable our seniors to graduate this year. We are prepared to support our seniors and all students as we make this transition to distance learning through the end of the year. We are excited to begin our Distance Learning for All programs on Monday and continue to lead our students and families through this challenging time."
She also noted the district's appreciation for the support and patience shown by the community.
"The last two months of school represents less than 2% of students’ K-12 learning time and we want to ensure young people’s future is not impacted amidst a global pandemic," a statement from the district read. "We will also focus our resources to support seniors who need to complete additional credits to graduate and then prepare all graduates, especially historically underserved students, for their next steps in life."
The statement also noted that local details concerning high school students would be available April 13. Corvallis School District also announced further details for high school schoolers was forthcoming.
"I think given the time everyone has spent into prepping for distance learning it would be disruptive to make the shift back, especially this close to the end of the school year,” GAPS Board chair Jennifer Ward said. “And uncertainty always breeds anxiety, so in a way it’s a relief just to know what we’re doing. I know GAPS is up to this.”
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