Oregon school closures: Your questions answered
Friday, March 13, marked the last day of school before an extended spring break for most students throughout Oregon.
Students and families found out late Thursday that many schools would be closed starting Monday, March 16, with some closing Friday, to address the COVID-19 virus.
Some went to school as usual Friday, rolling with rapid scheduling changes as they unfolded during the previous 24 hours. Milo Beall, a junior at Cleveland High School in southeast Portland, was checking out early. Beall said he was headed to school only to collect his things.
"My parents didn't want me here today," Beall said Friday morning. "My dad's a doctor and his office is closing down. They figure if there's an infectious disease, it's probably not a good idea to stay open."
Beall, like many students, said he wasn't sure how much homework to anticipate over the extended break, if any.
"Some teachers have told us they're going to put stuff online," Beall said.
Will students still learn during the long break?
The ability to deploy online learning during the school closures varies by school and district. Most public school students will not have online course instruction.
Some private schools, including Jesuit High School, St. Mary's Academy and Central Catholic High School, announced they would close school and move to a digital learning format. Others said they're not equipped to deliver online instruction to thousands of students.
"The concept of online instruction is that everyone has access to a platform that allows teachers to do video instruction," Sue Rieke-Smith, superintendent of the Tigard-Tualatin School District, said Thursday. Tigard-Tualatin is scheduled to re-open to students on March 31. She said teachers aren't yet prepared for that, and not all families have access to the computer hardware or internet connection required to do remote learning.
"That's where the equity issue comes in," Rieke-Smith said." Not all families are able to afford certain data plans and or Wi-Fi access that is reliable and at speeds that allow for that video conferencing."
Despite limitations, Tigard and Tualatin students were encouraged to "stay engaged academically."
"We encourage parents to read with their pre-K and elementary school children," a note to parents states. "All middle and high school students have access to take-home computers to use for academic work."
In rural western Washington County, Jeff Leo, superintendent of the Banks School District, said officials plan to meet again next week to determine whether teachers could give remote instruction if closures persist into April.
"We still have a lot of work to do next week even though we're off school," Leo said.
The district serves about 1,100 students from a large geographic area.
Leo said although the Banks district has laptops it could provide to students who don't have access to a computer, it doesn't have mobile Wi-Fi hotspots that would allow them to access the internet.
Beaverton schools, which are set to re-open April 1, provided remote learning resources for students to reference during the break, but did not set up online courses. The materials were primarily to keep students engaged and to prevent digression during the break, district officials said.
Portland Public Schools, which are set to be closed until April 1, deployed a combination of printed materials and online resources for students to use during the break.
Printed instructional resource materials for language arts and math will be distributed at meal pick-up sites.
"Digital learning applications and websites are valuable resources to use during this time," Portland Public Schools officials noted in a message to families. "We are creating a 'Virtual Learning Opportunities' portal that will be made available at pps.net/coronavirus."
David Douglas School District provided families with a Comcast offer for two months of free basic internet, but noted the district would not provide online instruction during the closure.
Food for students
One of the biggest reasons driving the state's initial directive not to close schools was the thousands of students in Oregon who rely on schools for food, health care and other wrap-around services.
Districts organized meal pick-up sites for students throughout the Portland Metro region.
In the Tigard-Tualatin district, two school sites will be open during breakfast and lunch hours to allow students to pick up to-go meals.
In Beaverton, the district will provide grab-and-go style lunches to all children in the area, even those too young for school, at 16 different school sites. Lunches will be available from 11 a.m. to noon, March 16 to 20. The service won't be provided during spring break week.
Portland Public Schools also will feed all children in the district boundaries at more than a dozen different schools sites, where meals can be picked up from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Tuesday, March 17, through Friday, March 20, and again March 30 and 31.
The district noted that volunteers are not needed at the food distribution sites.
"While we love our volunteers, we ask that during the extended spring break, you refrain from coming to school meal sites unless you are a PPS family picking up food," a message from PPS states.
David Douglas will also offer breakfast and lunch pick-up at four schools sites March 16-20, and again on March 30-31. The district will also keep its food pantriesopen.
As of Friday, Banks School District did not have a plan to provide meals during the closure. Officials there noted the district doesn't usually provide free meals and has no federal funding for a subsidized meal program, but administrators are considering whether to offer one.
Homeless students get extra help
In Beaverton, community organizations and churches combined forces with plans to deliver hundreds of bagged meals to Beaverton High School, for pick up or distribution to that school's homeless students.
"These students need this service more than ever," said Nancy Winston, a volunteer project coordinator with Bethel Congregational United Church of Christ in Beaverton already had planned to drop off food for homeless high schoolers right before spring break. Her church and several community partners and volunteers, including Jesuit High School alumni and Willamette Dental, teamed up to pack paper bags full of non-perishable food like soups, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and jelly sandwich supplies and dental kits. The bags will get distributed to the school site Sunday evening, Winston said, and should reach students on the first day of the extended two-week break.
Child care: What the law provides
The unexpected school closures have created immediate child care needs for families with young children.
Oregon's new Paid Family Leave Act isn't slated to go into effect until 2023. In the meantime,sick leave laws provide for both paid and unpaid sick leave, depending on the size of the employer. The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries notes employers with 10 or more employees (or six or more if they're in Portland) must provide paid sick time to workers at their regular wage, up to 40 hours per year. That includes time taken off to care for children during mandated school closures.
"Oregonians can use Oregon Family Leave to take protected time off to care for their children during official school closures to limit the spread of coronavirus," Jenny Smith, bureau communications director, said Friday. "This leave is not paid unless employees use available paid time off they have, but it is protected."
Smaller businesses can provide unpaid leave. Companies with 25 or more workers typically also provide up to 12 weeks of protected time off, meaning you can't be fired for taking time off for a "serious health condition" that affects an employee or their family member, the bureau noted.
"While sick time is not without limit, it may be that you and your employer can work out for a more flexible arrangement to allow for teleworking or working alternate hours," an information page from bureau notes.
Aside from sick leave, there is no aid for workers whose jobs are halted. School districts noted that custodians and other administrative employees will still be working during closures, but instructional aides and similar positions won't be compensated for days when no class is held, officials in Tigard said.
The same goes for employees of shops and businesses that close down voluntarily due to the virus. Employees will be paid only for the hours they work, according to the state.
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