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With COVID-19 keeping classrooms empty, district faces ongoing and growing challenges

GRAPHIC FILE PHOTO - As the COVID-19 pandemic ramps up and students remain at home, the Newberg School District is remaining in constant communication with the community about its plans going forward.

As the COVID-19 pandemic ramps up and students remain at home, the Newberg School District is remaining in constant communication with the community about its plans going forward. In a message emailed to community members on Thursday, Superintendent Joe Morelock outlined the areas district officials were focused on and answered some frequently asked questions.

There are four main focuses that the district is required to have per Gov. Kate Brown's orders: feeding students in need; providing childcare for emergency workers, medical staff, first responders and essential staff; pay employees and provide supplementary educational materials for students during the off time.

"Since the beginning of last week we have provided meals for students aged 1 to 18 across our district and this week we've opened additional food service for grab and go lunches at Dundee Elementary," Morelock wrote. "Our foodservice staff have been truly amazing at getting this up and running so quickly, serving upwards of 250 meals a day. We expect this will increase as the closure goes on."

Per the governor's order, schools will remain closed until at least April 28 to prevent the spread of COVID-19. All high school sporting events and practices are cancelled until that time as well, with some coaches speculating that there won't be a spring season at all.

Children in the district will be provided with grab-and-go meals – an essential service for some families – beginning today (Wednesday) and continuing throughout the outbreak, with locations and times posted online. District officials are also preparing for the possibility of providing childcare for emergency workers, medical staff, first responders and essential staff in the community, Morelock said.

The Chehalem Park and Recreation District is providing childcare services for those who need it and they could be a potential partner for the district should it choose to expand its own services for those on the front lines of this outbreak.

"These are essential priorities for our community and state and we're working hard to serve well," Morelock said. "We know your big questions are around education and what this will look like for our students. At this time, we know we will not reopen our school sites before April 28 and possibly later should the governor extend the closure. Reopening will depend upon slowing down the spread of the virus in our community and state."

In the realm of education, the district is formulating and will soon distribute supplemental educational materials to students. At this time, there is no feasible plan to do online schooling for students, given the scale and varying needs such an operation would entail.

The supplemental materials that will be provided to students will be for parents and guardians and will provide a connection between students and their school during these unique and uncertain times.

"We continue to work on a system to provide learning supports to accommodate a variety of learners," Morelock said. "The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) as of now is giving guidance to work on supplementary educational materials, recognizing the significant challenges in transitioning to direct instruction for every student in an online format. If the closure extends beyond April 28 we may be directed to move more fully into online instruction. We continue to plan and problem solve for that possibility. For now, the supplementary educational materials are being developed and you will be able to begin accessing them on April 2. These materials will be available on the district website and we will provide additional communication when they become available."

The Department of Education is working on a solution for seniors to meet graduation requirements and graduate on time. While it is unlikely that any in-person commencement would occur given the closures of college commencements around the state, the district expressed a desire to help seniors across the finish line and complete their education at the high school.

Each senior will be contacted in the coming weeks with more information on this effort and what it will take to complete their studies. The same goes for underclassmen who may be worried about the track they are on from a credits perspective.

State testing will not be administered this year, either, per a waiver from the federal government. Forecasting for next year's classes will happen eventually, but a system and process is not yet in place and is being worked on by the local school district.

"We know the uncertainty is unsettling, for families and for students," Morelock wrote at the end of his message, which can be found at www.Newberg.k12.or.us. "We miss the daily chance to do what we love to do, educate our students and prepare them to be contributing citizens to our community. Please know that we are working hard to adapt and serve each of you in these new conditions."


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