SOUTH COAST — School districts are scrambling to find new ways to teach students from home as campuses remain closed.
The school closures are set to continue through April 28, but could either be shortened or extended depending on whether the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rampage across the state.
“Right now the superintendents are meeting to discuss the impacts of the executive order (regarding continued closures) and how it applies to schools both individually and regionally,” said Tenneal Wetherell, superintendent at the South Coast Education Service District.
The South Coast regional superintendents met this week to brainstorm ways to provide support to every child, from general education to special education students.
“A lot of people are thinking around online learning as a core delivery mechanism, but I don’t think that’s the only way to approach it,” Wetherell said. “There are a lot of ways we’re contemplating doing this.”
Those ideas include providing textbooks with worksheets and time to talk with teachers about what they learned. It also includes posting online seminars of teachers for students to log on and watch.
“The core issue with all of those approaches is we have to ensure equitable access to all students,” Wetherell said. “When you try to figure out a way, you have to think if all families have internet access, computers, and a shelter to access this educational material we’re trying to produce.”
Administrative teams are digging into these issues across the districts to come up with the best delivery mechanism in an equitable way. This method may change district-by-district depending on systems they already have in place.
“One district might have a Chromebook environment while another district doesn’t have that yet,” Wetherell said.
When asked what school districts would do for students without internet access, Wetherell said a possible solution would be setting up hotspots for folks.
“We have to determine who has access and who doesn’t,” she said. “We have families in this remote community who also live in areas where the internet doesn’t reach, regardless if they have a hotspot. We need to figure that out as well.”
School districts are anticipating more guidance from the Oregon Department of Education within the next week.
Wetherell said South Coast families can also plan on hearing from school districts within the next week on plans to get students through this closure.
“Folks are working around the clock to design plans for staff, students and families,” she said. “Each district may roll their plans out at different times.”
Coquille School District
As the school shutdown continues, the Coquille School District is focused on getting seniors to graduate on time.
“I want a plan in place for us to have seniors graduate,” said Tim Sweeney, superintendent of the district. “We feel like we’re in good shape for the vast majority of seniors who are credit healthy to graduate on time. Seniors who are not credit healthy are going to have work to do to get caught up, like every year.”
Aside from creating a plan for seniors to get their diploma on time, the district is also focused on meeting the governor’s directives that came with the mandate to shut down school. One of those directives was to keep daycare open, if possible. For CSD, this meant keeping its current daycare operating and facilities clean.
Now, the district also turns its sights on potential online education. For Winter Lakes, the district’s alternative school that has a main online component, it is already “well-geared” for this. Of course, this doesn’t mean online education will be where the district goes next. It is just looking at what it can do, if needed.
“…But we have the brick-and-mortar building for Winter Lakes because students come in for support, so we will talk about what that support will have to look like now,” Sweeney said. “We’re working to figure out how to serve the needs of our students on IEPs and meet the legal requirements of their plans. We are going to get on top of this … We’re going to do as good a job as we can for our students and meet as many needs as we can. We will get through this.”
North Bend School District
In the North Bend School District, students have been able to pick up food at North Bay Elementary and North Bend Middle School. Superintendent Kevin Bogatin said the numbers of meals provided have doubled since Monday of last week, which is good news.
“Once we get to spring break, there will be a pause,” he reminded, but added that on March 30 additional sites will be added for students to get food.
Academically, the district is putting online resources together specific to North Bend and out quickly to families to access. On March 30, the district will survey its families to see who has internet access and computers as a way to determine what supports can be provided.
“In the meantime, we’re waiting for additional guidance from ODE around what supplemental educations services means,” Bogatin said.
Until additional guidance comes from ODE to districts on how to move forward through these school closures, North Bend Schools is looking at Oregon Virtual Academy to see what it might offer for online education. That is not to say NBSD will go to online education, just that it is seeing what is available.
“There is a percentage of kids without internet or computers, though I don’t know what that percentage is,” Bogatin said. “Some teachers don’t have internet access, so if some of our teachers don’t have that we definitely have kids who don’t.”
Also during these closures, sports is on hold and some championships are canceled. Bogatin is encouraging students to pick a date for prom so they can hold onto that as something to look forward to having. Of course, he has also told students to realize that date could very well change again.
“We’re coming up to when we would have had spring break, so everyone should take a breath,” Bogatin said. “Take that time to be with your family. We will develop an educational plan moving forward. Our priority is the health of our students, their families, and our community … People will have to be a little patient.”
Since the school closures, Bogatin has been questioned if school will open in the summer, if state testing will continue, but he has no answers yet.
“There are a lot of regulations we’re mandated by, so until we get direction we can’t make definitive decisions,” he said. “In the next one to two weeks, a lot of these questions will be answered.”
Until then, NBSD’s public information officer Brad Bixler reminded the public to wash their hands.
“Families … stay healthy and be smart,” he said.
Coos Bay School District
In the Coos Bay School District, Superintendent Bryan Trendell expressed his frustration over the COVID-19 situation and the district’s commitment to getting answers to the community’s questions as soon as possible.
“People want to know what now and how does this affect their child’s education,” Trendell said. “Unfortunately it’s a frustrating time as an educator because we’re used to providing answers and we don’t have those right now. It’s not anybody’s fault, it’s just the situation we’re in.”
Though this is the case, he pointed out that ODE is working hard to address these concerns, pass guidance to superintendents who can then pass it on to their communities.
“(ODE) is prioritizing high school seniors and what this means for them,” he said. “As of now, the answer is yes they can graduate but we’re not sure how we can make that happen.”
He echoed Wetherell in saying that a district can’t simply shift to online education due to federal and state laws. If education is offered, it must be offered to every student equally.
“Families are out there wondering what they can do for their child at home,” he said. “There’s tons of free resources out there for people to access, but we can’t tell them to go access that because not everyone can and we don’t want to violate anyone’s individual rights.”
So, for now, his message is that “school is closed.”
“…We want everyone to take a pause, take care of themselves, make sure their kids and family are healthy,” he said. “This is truly life and death for every community in the world. This is the year education was interrupted. This is the year our lives were interrupted.”