The next time Canby’s 5,000 public school students set foot inside their classrooms, it will be a new school year.
As many expected, Oregon Governor Kate Brown has followed the lead of neighboring Washington state in extending statewide school closures through the end of the current academic year to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. The governor had announced in mid-March that schools would be closed through at least April 28.
“I know this is certainly not what any of us were hoping for, but it is truly the best decision for our system,” she said.
Governor Brown announced the decision in a press conference at the Oregon Health Authority Wednesday afternoon, saying it was to provide clarity for parents, educators, families and students for the year ahead.
“I can’t imagine it’s a surprise to anyone that we have really been struggling with how best to provide educational guidance during these extraordinary times,” the governor said. “We have your kids and all Oregon students at the forefront of every decision that we make about school. Their health, happiness and safety is a top priority.”
Though school buildings will remain closed through August, it does not mean an early start to summer vacation for students or teachers. Public education will continue, just in a different way.
“School and learning will continue as best we can, using remote means,” Governor Brown said.
The decision also means the cancellation of graduation, senior prom and other ceremonies celebrating the Canby High School class of 2020. Brown said the Oregon Department has developed new graduation requirements for seniors that accommodates the new distance learning model.
“All our high school seniors who were on track to graduate prior to the statewide school closure will receive a passing grade for their courses,” she said. “I refuse to punish students, many of whom have been in Oregon schools for over a decade, because they could not attend classes for a little over two months.”
For those seniors who were not on track for graduation before the schools were closed in March, their school districts are being asked to craft creative and individualized plans to help get them back on track and meet the updated graduation requirements.
She acknowledged the challenges that will come with what she called this “strange, new world of unknowns” that schools will attempt to navigate in the weeks and months to come.
“We understand the incredible disruption this can have on each student’s education,” she said. “We all see the isolation and the challenges for families, especially those who rely on school as a centering place for connection, community and comfort.”
The governor also extended her executive order for colleges and universities to practice distance learning for the remainder of their academic calendars, as well as protections for incoming freshmen who had existing admission or scholarship offers.
The governor’s announcement came just a little more than a week after the Oregon Department of Education signaled such a course was a “strong possibility,” pushing out new guidance for all of the state’s superintendents to implement distance learning plans for all of their students.
Following the press conference, Canby Superintendent Trip Goodall said he received the news “with a heavy heart,” but that Canby schools would be ready to navigate the remainder of the academic year following the new distance learning model.
House Republican Leader Christine Drazan, from Canby, said the announcement “comes as no surprise,” given the earlier guidance from ODE, but that it calls for access to a comprehensive distance learning curriculum for all seniors, regardless of if they were on track to graduate or not.
“This is the leadership needed to honor their years of hard work and commitment to achieve the future of their dreams,” Rep. Drazan said. “Our students attend school to learn, not to simply progress through a system to achieve a credential. Let them learn.”
And, though the decision has yet to be made, it’s virtually a certainty that the OSAA will remain aligned with the governor’s office on this decision, meaning the spring season for high school sports is over before it ever began.
The OSAA Executive Board is slated to meet April 15 to revisit the suspension of spring sports, but the meeting is just a formality at this point. The closure of school buildings also means the closure of fields and athletic facilities, which means no sports.
Sadly, “distance competing” is not an option for student-athletes.