Schools extend closure through April 28
Friday, March 13, marked the last day of school before an extended spring break for most students throughout Oregon.
Students and families found out March 12 that many schools would be closed starting Monday, March 16, with some closing Friday, March 13, to address COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Gov. Brown announced March 17 that she was extended the mandatory school closures until April 28. There has been no word as yet whether students would have to make up those missed classroom hours. State law mandates a minimum number of "instructional hours" for each grade level.
Tuesday March 17 West Linn-Wilsonville School District sent out a robocall telephone survey to parents Tuesday, March 17, hoping to gauge families' abilities for online learning options for students.
The district has not decided to move to online classes as yet, according to District Communications Manager Andrew Kilstrom, but wanted to assess what kind of barriers families might have should it be needed. After the first round of calls he said approximately half the families had answered the survey, which was implemented after the realization that a snail mail survey would likely be obsolete before replies could be received.
Parents who didn't have an opportunity to answer the survey can call the district's IT department during business hours at 503-673-7013.
During the current closure, the district is providing online resources for parents who may want to work with their student to supplement their learning on its website, www.wlwv.k12.or.us. At this time, there is no expectation that teachers or parents provide extended resources, communication, or assess students during the closure. Students are not required to participate, but are encouraged to access the resources provided.
Will students learn
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 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.
West Linn-Wilsonville School District has no plans in place for online classes, but officials said updates will be available possibly this week.
"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 Tigard-Tualatin is scheduled to reopen to students 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 engage in 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 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 stated. "All middle and high school students have access to take-home computers to use for academic work."
Beaverton schools, which are set to reopen 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 is 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.
West Linn-Wilsonville students will be able to pick up grab-and-go breakfast and lunches at any of nine schools, regardless of where they attend: Boones Ferry, Boeckman Creek, Lowrie, Cedaroak, Bolton, Trillium, Sunset, Willamete or West Linn High School.
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.
David Douglas also will offer breakfast and lunch pick-up at four schools March 16 to 20, and again on March 30 and 31. The district will keep its food pantries open.
Child care: What 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," said Jenny Smith, bureau communications director, on 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 a more flexible arrangement to allow for teleworking or working alternate hours," an information page from the 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 or business slows down enough that employees are not scheduled. Employees will be paid only for the hours they work, according to the state.
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