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The extended closure comes after Gov. Kate Brown's statewide order regarding schools; local officials planning future response

GRAPHIC PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - As is the case throughout the district, Mabel Rush Elementary School has shut its doors and erected signs advising anxious parents about the status of the pandemic's affect on the schools.

On March 17, Gov. Kate Brown announced an extension of the statewide K-12 school closure through April 28. The decision – a response to the COVID-19 pandemic – marks a turning point for the Newberg School District as it scrambles to make learning materials available and continue providing essential services to students during the layoff.

"These are trying times and we are all working together to stay on top of all guidance from the governor and from the Oregon Department of Education," district communications coordinator Gregg Koskela said in an email announcement to the community. "We are working to get clarification and to understand all that is directed."

Spring break for students in Newberg and Dundee has been extended through March 27. After that, the district plans to have supplemental education materials available until school returns – if it does return. Discussions are underway among district officials about extending the school year when students return as well as what to do if they can't come back for the remainder of the academic year.

Online learning is being considered for students, but there are logistical challenges involved with attending to the thousands of students in the district and their varying needs.

"Many are asking about switching to online learning," Koskela said. "This is a very complex change and we do not anticipate solving all the problems and making that complete switch anytime soon.

"We are very mindful of our responsibility to provide an equitable learning experience for every one of our students. Meeting every student's needs with specially designed instruction and ensuring Internet access for all students, both present formidable challenges that we are working to overcome. We will continue to follow guidance from the state and work on problem solving."

The district will continue providing grab-and-go meals for children under 18 at various sites around town. Edwards Elementary School will serve breakfast from 8 to 9 a.m. and lunch from 11 a.m. to noon. The CPRD Aquatic Center at 1802 Haworth Ave will serve lunch from 11 a.m. to noon, as will the Newberg Public Library at 503 E. Hancock St. Deskin Commons will serve lunch from 11 to 11:30 a.m.

According to Koskela, the district is working on expanding food distribution to students and is developing a system of wellness checks for students during the closure. It is also working with the Chehalem Park & Recreation District on determining when and if its C.A.R.E. childcare program will be re-opened.

At this time, it is unknown how the extended closure will impact graduation and other activities for seniors at Newberg High School. The timeline for converting students to online learning – as well as whether the school year will be extended – remain unresolved as the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve around the state and country. Koskela encouraged the community to band together during this crisis and keep an eye on the Newberg School District social media pages – along with email accounts – for updates on how local schools will move forward. As many other institutions have said in recent days, the school district encourages community members to stay home as much as possible, maintain social distancing of at least six feet apart, wash hands frequently, cover coughs and sneezes with one's arm, avoid touching your face and stay away from gatherings of 10 or more people.

"Without a doubt, we need each other at this time," Koskela said. "Loss of income and stress and insecurity are real issues on top of the spread of the virus. We will keep working together to support each other!"

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